{poetry friday: the p7 shovel gold}

When they invented the sestina, indeed, the resultant yowling by Aquitanian poets throughout Europe was no doubt noteworthy… but that was before they invented the Golden Shovel…


The Golden Shovel’s title enlarges the idea of tribute, of “shoveling” the golden bits of another poem for reuse. First, a poet takes an admired line, then, keeping the words in order, uses the words from this line as line endings in a new poem of their own creation. Finally, the poem reveals their new creation, and credits the old.

We chose the hardest poem to work with, Gerard Manley Hopkins’ “Pied Beauty.” You remember the tongue-twister that you utterly failed to memorize in the seventh grade for speech class?

Yeah, that one. (What? Was it only me?):

Pied Beauty

Glory be to God for dappled things –
    For skies of couple-colour as a brinded cow;
        For rose-moles all in stipple upon trout that swim;
Fresh-firecoal chestnut-falls; finches’ wings;
    Landscape plotted and pieced – fold, fallow, and plough;
        And áll trádes, their gear and tackle and trim.

All things counter, original, spare, strange;
    Whatever is fickle, freckled (who knows how?)
        With swift, slow; sweet, sour; adazzle, dim;
He fathers-forth whose beauty is past change:
                Praise him.

~ Gerard Manley Hopkins, 1877

Once I got over the shrieking horror of How am I supposed to work with compounds like ‘chestnut-falls’??? Is that one word, or two???, I began to figure out what this poem was – and what it was not. Foremost, it was not a rewrite of Hopkins’ original. In Terrence Hayes’ original poem, “Golden Shovel,” based on Gwendolyn Brooks’ “We Real Cool,” (1959) he took her words and whipped them into a whole new dish. The poignancy and bravado of a nameless black boy cresting the hill of adulthood is certainly there, but he’s not leaning heavily on the bravado of school-skipping adolescents hanging out at a pool hall. Once I stopped trying to rewrite “Pied Beauty,” my process cleaned up a whole lot… though I was still tempted by it. As you can see, I took for use the first line of Hopkins’ exultant poem:

Photos via Wikipedia

lilium fatale

there blooms the lady, gaudy in her glory
as a trumpet blast. Bright freckles massed might be
music, presaging summer’s solo. Oh, to
grace a garden, now that spring is here. Does God
dream in stargazers? Let no beauty be for
gotten: strumpet striped, dewy, sunlight dappled;
dizzy, drenched, these senses! delight in all things.

   ~ after Gerard Manley Hopkins

Moving past my usual squeamishness about blank verse, with its resultant no-rules/no-brakes feeling, I wondered, next, if it was possible to add a little lightness to these poems. Oddly for a tribute form, most I’ve seen are quite serious in content. While the rules in a Golden Shovel freed me from the tyranny of end-line rhyme, I found that thematically, with this poem specifically, thematic variance was nearly impossible. (I’ll be interested in seeing how my other Sisters managed this — I could not.) I’m just not sure how else I could have used these particular lines, although the second half of the poem might have .

star talk

“we’re made of star-stuff.” this, a dazzling sendup of us all;
humanity made luminosity. great, glowy things
reactive (con)fusions, ticking like a Geiger counter,
our radiance cosmic, scintillating & original
yes, we’re stars… but, mostly quarks: odd parts in a box marked ‘spare;’
we broke the mold. we’re distinct, authentic, genuine… strange.

   ~ with genuine affection for the brilliantly strange Dr. Neil deGrasse Tyson

My one regret is running out of time to try for the last two lines (despite what Laura was told, the last two words constitute no challenge at all, thank you) – but maybe someday!


With such a busy month, we had zero time for collaboration, so like me, I know you’re dying to see what Sara (who is in NM with her kids just now, so may post later next week), Tricia, Laura, Kelly, & Liz are shoveling up this week between commencement, travel, and other ceremonies. Andi’s not with us this month, but we know she is reading and being filled. She will be back. More Poetry Friday goodness to dig your teeth into is found at Buffy’s Blog.

12 Replies to “{poetry friday: the p7 shovel gold}”

  1. Tanita.

    “Bright freckles massed might be
    music, presaging summer’s solo.”

    Yowza. I don’t think I’ve heard a lily celebrated that way before. Dazzling. And not at all forced. Just lovely. And then—another poem! I’m in love with your cheeky poke at star-stuff. I’m hoping Neil sees this!

    1. Glad you like! I thought about tweeting that poet to Dr. Tyson, but I thought that might be just a skosh forward. Just a SKOSH. But, I do love him. And I do love how weird he is, and how engaged he is with his topic, which, in turn, makes the rest of us seek to find the lovely depths of it as well.

      I actually don’t love lilies!! The pollen they drop is such a pain – I prefer them outside, unless they’re Peruvian lilies, and then I love them everywhere. Their trumpet shape just brought out that dancing swagger – and then strumpets and shimmy-dances came along next. This was a really fun one.

  2. Mm, mm, mmm! Love all of the Poetry Sevens’ shovels, but these two most of all. I dug into Hopkins’ “Pied Beauty” when I used it as a mentor text for my poem “Wild Atrocity.” That is indeed how you get to know his language and cadences. You paid tribute by the bucketful.

    1. @MaryLee: Glad you enjoyed it! I read a lot of Hopkins – “God’s Grandeur” and “Spring” are also filled with those types of lines, and it helped ground me in this, his most exuberant poem. ☺ I really do think the shovel is worth applying to him again.

  3. I didn’t realize when I chose this poem that it would be so problematic. I assumed that because the words were so (ahem) interesting, that it would make this task a bit of fun and, dare I say, easy? I actually tried writing to every line in the poem and found that first line terribly difficult, but you’ve knocked it out of the park with such incredible images. I adore the second poem and it’s homage to the stuff that makes us all.

    1. @MissRumphius: Oh, Tricia, it wasn’t problematic!!! Okay, it was, but if we couldn’t whine about it, it would be because we weren’t being challenged by it, right? It’s all growth, and I appreciate the push this month, so much. It was beautifully distracting, and I think gave us a new way to look at a poem we maybe took for granted. At least I did – I love Hopkins, but you do get to “know” him by working with his words and the odd springy rhythm he managed (which I cannot).

  4. First, I am glad I worked in a vacuum and did not read Terrence Hayes’ brilliance nor see any of you guys’ work while I toiled on my own. You killed it. “strumpet striped, dewy, sunlight dappled;
    dizzy, drenched,” — I would drink that down in a bottle if I could, on ice, on the beach. I really like the second one, too, but that first one just dazzles. Sigh. I hope you do more!

    1. @LauraSalas: Oh, wasn’t the Hayes gorgeous? I was like, “Oh, dear… mine isn’t going to go that well.” And yet, I decided that each poem had to define each response – and really, seeing how you worked with yours was SO very helpful, so thank you much. I was drafting off of your success; you usually manage nature poems beautifully, so I thought I’d just pull a Laura and go forth. I’m grateful you think it worked!!!

  5. Nice job! Love both. Had to smile at the beginning when I heard you guys chose Pied Beauty (such a challenge). But you chose workable lines and made those words sparkle in your tributes. Like how you echoed Hopkins’ rhythm. 🙂

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