Friday, February 9, 2018

Golden Shovel Poetic Form



Sally Murphy, just back to school Way Down Under, is graciously hosting the Roundup today. Take a trip to Sally's for your poem feast!

Last week, I learned about the Golden Shovel poetic form when I discovered Nikki Grimes' book One Last Word. Grimes plays tribute to Harlem Renaissance poets by creating original poems around the words of first lines in their poems. She works with a "striking line" and incorporates the words of this line as the last words in the lines of her new poem.

One Last Word

Nikki Grimes uses a poem in the public domain by Jean Toomer as one of her source poems.

Storm Ending

Thunder blossoms gorgeously above our heads,
Great, hollow, bell-like flowers,
Rumbling in the wind,
Stretching clappers to strike our ears…
Full-lipped flowers
Bitten by the sun
Bleeding rain
Dripping rain like golden honey —
And the sweet earth flying from the thunder.

The first line inspires new verse in which Grimes reminds us that

The truth is, every day we rise is like thunder— 
a clap of surprise. Could be echoes of trouble, or blossoms
of blessing.

The poem continues, though I was perusing this volume in my local bookstore, so I don't have more of the poem to share. The book has vivid illustrations by many contemporary African American artists, including my friend Jan Spivey Gilchrist!

I found that Terrance Hayes wrote the first golden shovel sourcing the Gwendolyn Brooks poem, "We Real Cool."  So I was ready for something new this week.  I wonder if any Poetry Friday friends have tried this form. If anyone has shared golden shovel poems here and I've missed them, I'd love to read them.

Maine summer poems have been on my mind lately - too much winter up here already, and I'm down south in New Hampshire! I googled "Maine poems" and found this one by Kate Barnes, Maine's first poet laureate, which I used as my source poem.


In Maine we're used to it, it's still
the custom to look out for the neighbors, a habit
handed down from the start
of the earliest fishing villages, of the first
long strings of hundred-acre farms
stretched along ridges, each one usually
just called, "The Road."

The entire poem can be read here, a beautiful tribute to communities watching over one another.  
I took the first line as my striking line. The word neighborliness just wanted to creep in there, but I'm not so satisfied with the last line of this draft. It sounds too adult for a kid's poem. I'm open to suggestions!

All in all, I enjoyed the process and will certainly dig up another poem with a golden shovel provided by a poem I like.

 In Maine we're used to it, it's still
                         after Kate Barnes

When rain, snow and sleet hang on in
March, up here in Maine
holding fast to what we used
to love last year - canoes to paddle, waves to jump, clams to
dig, marshmallows to roast, fish to catch, and all it
means to be summer in a land with it’s          
fill of frontier wonder and neighborliness still.

                                ~Joyce Ray © all rights reserved
 A Golden Shovel Poem borrowing words from the first line of “Neighborliness,” by Kate Barnes, Maine Poet Laureate Emerita.

Thursday, December 21, 2017


Robert Ray photo

For never-resting time leads summer on
To hideous winter and confounds him there;
Sap cheque'd with frost and lusty leaves quite gone,
Beauty o'ersnow'd and bareness every where.

~ William Shakespeare, from Sonnet V 

Winter Poem Swap coordinator Tabatha was my poem buddy this year. Knowing that I'm revising a MG novel set in Maine and that I live in just as icy New Hampshire, she crafted a poem that will keep me going through snow, wind and frosted windows. Sometimes writing is as her poem describes, and the only thing to do is to write the words one by one until your heart opens and the story is unlocked.

I've decided that the literary socks she included in my package are my lucky writing socks, and the tea bags with writing quotes are reserved for those moments when I'm stuck. Oh, and there's a book for writers when I need all the encouragement I can find. Thanks, Tabatha. I am in love with my poem!

Writing Through Winter
             by Tabatha Yeatts 

some days
she thinks that writing is
living in a drafty cabin 

during the bitter days of winter,
listening to blank pages rattle
like wind shaking dead leaves

she thinks of her pen
as the cabin window -
a fragile barrier
against the snow 

what can you do,
she wonders,
to make it through
those nights when the wind

wraps its fearsome arm
behind your back
and leans in for a kiss? 

she knows the remedy 
for words freezing inside her
is to remember stories that pump
the bellows of her heart

she lays her gloved hand
on the pane and traces letters,
one by

Buffy has the Poetry Friday Roundup. Thanks a bunch, Buffy!

Monday, September 11, 2017

9/11 Tribute
Wikimedia commons photo

Perhaps some of you have visited our 9/11 Memorial site in New York City. I have not. Tonight, as on each anniversary since 9/11, a light tribute will extend high into the night sky to honor those who perished. You can view some images of the tribute here.

Our town librarian asked me to write a poem for our town's 10th anniversary observance of 9/11. My wish is the same on this 16th anniversary.

Golden Seams

Remember the day a ruptured sky
spread emptied and silent over us?
Doves and their kindred spirits dared not fly.
Smoke billowed. Haunting words
dropped heavy as descending stones.

On a stage where some called out, “Revenge!”
we cleaned and dressed our nation’s wound,
reached out to any stranger’s pain                      
to bond with post-9/11 glue.

On widening trenches of mistrust
we heaped security and sacred creed,
a monument to our lost innocence;
a Maginot Line Band-aid.

Do we wear you like a proud tattoo,
America’s September scar,
vengeance, vigilance– emblazoned
on muscles we habitually flex?

What if our splintered self, instead, displayed
seams layered like Japanese Kintsugi art–
heroic deeds of that one day  
now gilded by forgiving hearts?

Let gold-illuminated seams                     
embellish and adorn our fractured vessel.
Let doves fly in from wild skies
to roost at last in sunlit olive branches.   
                      Joyce Ray © All rights reserved

 Note: Kintsugi (kin-tsugi) is the Japanese art of repairing broken ceramics. The artist applies layers of lacquer to adhere the pieces together. The final layer is laced with gold to illuminate, rather than hide, the breakage.


Thursday, August 10, 2017

POETRY FRIDAY - Celebrating Verse Novels

This summer I discovered two verse novels for middle graders at my summertime library. Perhaps one or both have been shared before, but they're treasures to me, who will also be celebrating a birthday this month.

GONE CAMPING, written by Tamera Will Wissinger and illustrated by Matthew Cordell, is a fun book that is also a resource encouraging kids to explore writing poetry in different forms. (HMH, 2017)

Sam and Lucy are first time campers with their parents, but Lucy is a bit fearful as the camping trip begins.

The Woods Ahead

In the woods ahead
Branches and shadows reach everywhere.
In the woods ahead
How will I ever go to bed?
Who knows what creatures lurk in there.
Could be raccoons, or fox, or bear
In the woods ahead. 

The extensive appendix explains rhyme, rhythm, poetic techniques and forms while referencing the book's poems.

Nikki Grimes' GARVEY'S CHOICE (Wordsong, 2016) is an important verse novel with themes of bullying, parental relationships and finding one's own voice. Grimes uses 5 -line tanka verses to tell Garvey's story. She's a master!


Mom's got a talent
for origami, but she
can't fold me into
the jock Dad wants me to be.
At least she knows not to try.

Go here if you want to visit Tamera Will Wissinger and Nikki Grimes.

Click over to Reflections on the Teche for Margaret's Birthday Treasures, amazing student poems that begin a new year, and all Poetry Friday treasures. Thank you, Margaret!