Gwendolyn Brooks & the Golden Shovel

The Golden Shovel Anthologimg_3441y: New poems honoring Gwendolyn Brooks, edited by Peter Kahn, Ravi Shankar and Patricia Smith, has just been published by The University of Arkansas Press. The idea behind this very handsome collection came from the inspiring Peter Kahn, Chicago English teacher and Spoken Word educator extraordinaire. He drew on a Terrance Hayes’ poem ‘The Golden Shovel’ that honours Brooks by using the entirety of perhaps her best known poem ‘We Real Cool’ as the end words in the lines of his own piece. Kahn took this new form and played around with it very successfully with his sophomore students. As he explains in the introduction, Kahn then decided, with Hayes’ blessing, to devise an anthology that would include ‘work from students and teachers, “up-and-comers” and “masters” of the craft of poetry each of whom would be using a brand new form (page xxxvi). What is fascinating about this beautiful book is the varied ways in which such a wide selection of poets (including Moniza Alvi, Malika Booker, Catherine Brogan, Billy Collins, Rita Dove, Keith Jarrett and Liz Lochhead) have chosen to work with individual lines and how these lines always lead you back to the source – the magnificent Gwendolyn Brooks who was the first black writer to receive the Pulitzer Prize for Literature and many other honours subsequently. I am thrilled to have a poem in such company. The line I chose for my poem ‘The Way He Lived Now’ was also picked by Philip Gross, one of my poetry heroes, for his poem ‘Memento Mori’. The line ‘with his great white strong cold squares of teeth’ is from Brooks’ ‘The Vacant Lot’. We have both used it quite differently in our writing – as you will see when you buy a copy or put in a library request. Let’s hope the book will become an indispensable source of inspiration for poets, students and teachers. You can find out more about Brooks’ work and listen to recordings here.

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