Poetry Drawer: Golden Shovel Exercise: Chateau Frontenac by Robert Demaree

Robert Demaree: At a workshop in Wolfeboro, New Hampshire, in August 2017, Marilyn Nelson introduced us to poets we were not likely to know—poets from the Middle East, Native America, Gary, Indiana, poems that spoke of addiction, alienation, anger. Then she explained to us the “golden shovel” prompt or exercise, created by National Book Award winner Terrance Hayes. We were to write a poem in which the lines should end, consecutively, with words from a line by Gwendolyn Brooks, the first African American to win a Pulitzer in poetry and serve as Poet Laureate for the U.S. We were offered a choice of three lines by Brooks, and I selected “I shall create! If not a note, a hole” (from “Boy Breaking Glass”). I was able to follow the directions for one of the two stanzas below.

Golden Shovel Exercise

The participants all look alike this morning, and I
Think of the syringes, which we shall
Not know, even if we create
Poems of pain and exclusion, even if
We were to experience, as we have not,
The chilling look and touch of a
Security guard, his voice a strident note
Of smug assumption, a
Clue to the we-ness of this American hole.

Then I remember being pulled out of the line
Returning from Canada,
Luggage searched at random, they said,
But we suspect for prescription drugs,
Targeted for our years,
A group not mentioned
In this morning’s verse.

Chateau Frontenac

Looking back sixty years
It seems so like them
That my parents chose a place
Called the Chateau Overlook,
A modest auberge appropriate
To a schoolmaster’s means
And outlook on life.
I remember the tour at
The Plains of Abraham, and a man
Lobbing a half-dollar U.S. over the
Heads of the crowd, a tip for the guide.
It fell in the mud at his feet;
He paused for a moment,
Then picked it up.

I went by myself to the Place d’Armes.
Returning, I asked the concierge
In my false, wooden French,
“Où est ma mère?”
“Oopstairs” was his reply.

Last summer our daughter and her son
Drove to Québec.
The Chateau Overlook is gone.
Philip stepped into the lobby of
The Chateau Frontenac,
Something I had not done,
And rode to the top floor
Where he took a picture of
The Plains of Abraham.

Robert Demaree is the author of four book-length collections of poems, including Other Ladders published in 2017 by Beech River Books. His poems have received first place in competitions sponsored by the Poetry Society of New Hampshire and the Burlington Writers Club. He is a retired school administrator with ties to North Carolina, Pennsylvania and New Hampshire. Bob’s poems have appeared in over 150 periodicals including Cold Mountain Review and Louisville Review.

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