#105: Life, Friends, Is A Golden Shovel and So Much Depends Upon (A Corruption and a Correction)

OMG.  The assignment today from NaPoWriMo was to do a clever little thing called a “golden shovel,” wherein you write a poem for which ALL of the ending words for each line of your poem are taken in total from some other famous poem–so that, a person reading your poem could read the original famous poem by reading only the last words in each line of yours!  Crazy.  Cool.  Thank you Terrence Hayes. But I spent a couple of hours on this baby and realized I had made a grave error!  But my grave error ended up being something kind of lovely.  I took my favorite poem of all time, John Berryman’s “14” from the book 77 Dream Songs, and instead of ending each line of my poem with all the words in Berryman’s poem (which would have taken forever), I used only the last word in each line of Berryman’s poem, and wrote my poem around those words.  But I also discovered I was copping the same form of the original Dream Song–a structure of three sestets, consistent in most all of the two hundred-plus Dream Songs by Berryman, and I was also copping the rhythmic aspects of the poem.  Additionally, there were a few other phrases or words stolen from the original. So I ended up with less of a golden shovel and more of a corruption–which is also a cool idea.  Take any famous poem or favorite poem and cross out about fifty percent or more of the words.  Fill in the blanks with your own words.  You end up learning about the various choices poets make–but also are able to mimic with your own words the structural and rhythmic moves of your favorite poet.  I liked this golden shovel assignment so much, I had to go back to it.  So here is my grand mistake. I recommend reading the original first:  John Berryman’s “Dream Song 14.”  Following my corruption, keep reading for the correction!

Life, Friends, is a Golden Shovel (A Corruption)

–after John Berryman

Life, friends, is a golden shovel, or at least, they tell me so.
It moves, and grows, reaches and yearns,
digs or scoops for that which we yearn,
and whatever it finds it lifts and carries, oh boy,
(unceasingly) only to reveal we’re bored
and we get no

Satisfaction.  Despite the treasures found, no
satisfaction, because we are too easily bored.
Neighbors watch me,
Students watch me, as I shovel them literature,
Friends watch me, appear to have minor gripes
but nothing like achilles,

with that whole tendon arrangement, watching me.
And sometimes the golden shovel becomes a drag
scooping up after the dog
after several days of neglect and inattention, away
goes all the debris and refuge and blind aspiration, leaving
some trail: tail, wag.


So Much Depends Upon (A Correction) 

–after William Carlos Williams 

I’m not so
blind, not so much
that anything depends
in any significant way upon
good or bad weather, a
catastrophe in tooth and claw, red,
carried away, as they say, in  a wheelbarrow,
for those who prefer their donuts lightly glazed,
or not.  I simply need someone to be with,
someone with whom I can dance in the rain,
holding five gallon buckets out for water
under a gray Oregon spring sky, beside
me through thickness, thinness, the
clouds all the while turning a white
blind eye to the cavorting barnyard chickens.

Published by michaeljarmer

I'm a public high school English teacher, fiction writer, poet, and musician in Portland, Oregon

2 thoughts on “#105: Life, Friends, Is A Golden Shovel and So Much Depends Upon (A Corruption and a Correction)

  1. Thanks, Erin! Yeah, poetry by corruption is an easy, non-threatening way to get kids writing poetry. These two models I’ve tried here were a little harder, but just taking a poem and blacking out many of the pithiest words in the poem and having kids fill in the blanks is effective–kind of like a mad lib–only you try to get them to think about artful choices, rather than silly ones.

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