Monday, April 3, 2017

A Golden Way to Dig In and Celebrate National Poetry Month - Gwendolyn Brooks-Style

It’s April!
Which means, it’s time to wish our Readers Happy National Poetry Month
The 30-day event, designated by the Academy of American Poets in 1996, holds the title of the World’s Largest Literary Celebration. 

What better way to celebrate than to try your hand at a new poetic form – the Golden Shovel - created in 2014 by the MacArthur “genius grant” poet Terrence Hayes to honor the unforgettable American poet Gwendolyn Brooks.
Because 2017 marks Ms. Brooks’ 100th Birthday, creating a Golden Shovel allows you two celebrations for the price of one.

FYI: Born June 7 in Topeka, Kansas in 1917 and a Southsider all her life, Gwendolyn Brooks served as Illinois’ Poet Laureate, our country’s official poetry consultant, was the first black writer to receive the Pulitzer Prize - for her collection Annie Allen in 1950, and dedicated her life to embracing and growing Young Chicago Authors. In 1945, her first published work, A Street in Bronzeville, chronicled the “everyday lives, aspiration and disappointments” of her Chicago neighbors.
She mentored numerous poets, including Patricia Smith, and others who went on to mentor Chance the Rapper.

Her first collection of 34 poems for children, Bronzeville Boys and Girls, was published in 1956, edited by the legendary Ursula Nordstrom. As Maria Popova wrote in Brain Pickings, “…the collection was a revolutionary act of creative courage in its era, a decade before the peak of the civil rights movement.  It granted a generation of children the tremendous gift of being seen, of having the validity of their experience mirrored back by the page, of being assured that they belong in literature and art.”
Ronni Solbert illustrated the original edition. Faith Ringgold illustrated the 2015 reprint.
Each poem’s title bore a child’s name. GERTRUDE is one of my favorites.


“When I hear Marian Anderson sing,
I am a STUFFless kind of thing.
Heart is like the flying air.
I cannot find it anywhere.
Fingers tingle. I am cold
And warm and young and very old.
But, most, I am a STUFFless thing
When I hear Marian Anderson sing.”

Terrance Hayes understandably wanted to keep Gwendolyn Brooks' voice alive.  He wanted the world to know its rhythms and its heart.
His technique – The Golden Shovel – does just that.

Here’s how the Golden Shovel form works:
you pick a favorite Brooks poem;
next you pick a favorite line;
then, using each word from the chosen line to end the lines of your poem, create a poem that honors Ms. Brooks’ spirit.

If you choose a line with six words, your poem is six lines long.

Click here to read Hayes’ original poem titled “The Golden Shovel."
Hayes invited several well-known poets, including Mark Doty, Sharon Olds, Nikki Giovanni and Billy Collins, to create original Golden Shovel poems, then gathered them in his collection The Golden Shovel Anthology: New Poems Honoring Gwendolyn Brooks.

Some have called this technique “something borrowed, something new.”
The Poetry Foundation, which is celebrating Hayes’ anthology April 12 here in Chicago, notes that this kind of borrowing method is similar to the cento form, in which the writer creates an entire poem from other poets’ lines.  The erasure form in which a writer removes lines from an existing poem is also similar.

Visit The Poetry Foundation and Poem Hunter for lists of Ms. Brooks’ poems so you can choose one  for your Golden Shovel poem.
Or perhaps create an 8-line poem using the end words of each of the lines of GERTRUDE – i.e. sing, thing, air, anywhere, cold, old, thing, sing.

And while you’re writing, be sure to remember Ms. Gwendolyn Brooks.
Happy (poetic) diggin’!

Esther Hershenhorn

The Academy of American Poets sponsors 30 days/30 ways to celebrate National Poetry Month.

Follow the thousands of National Poetry Month celebrations using #npm17 and/or follow the Academy of American Poets @POETSorg.

Congratulations to Ruth Spiro, winner of our Book Giveaway of Matthew Bird’s THE SECRETS OF STORY (Writer’s Digest, 2016)!

1 comment:

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