cover image October Mourning: A Song for Matthew Shepard

October Mourning: A Song for Matthew Shepard

Lesléa Newman. Candlewick, $15.99 (128p) ISBN 978-0-7636-5807-6

Just days after 21-year-old Matthew Shepard was killed in 1998, Newman (Heather Has Two Mommies) visited his school, the University of Wyoming, as the keynote speaker for its Gay Awareness Week. Writing from this personal viewpoint, Newman crafts 68 poems, imagining the perspectives of Shepard, his convicted killers, the stars above, the fence to which he was tied, a nearby deer, and many more. Despite the variety of voices and poetic forms Newman uses (haiku, pantoum, villanelle, and others), the poems read as a somewhat repetitive chorus of rage, shame, and disgust (“I can take anything/ I’m tough as time/ But when I saw him/ between the two of them/ trapped in that truck/ it made me want to heave,” says the road). It’s a visceral, painful read, but it’s difficult to say how singsongy couplets from Shepard’s cat (“Where is the boy? Will he ever be back?/ I’m cold and I’m lonely and I need a snack”) or a punny offering from the rope used to bind him (“They roped me in/ I was fit to be tied”) make this tragedy more real. Ages 14–up. (Sept.)