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Monday, March 18, 2013
I discovered this inspiring 2012 novel in verse, October Mourning: A Song for Matthew Shepard, in the library yesterday as I browsed the YA new book section. This memorable cycle of sixty-eight poems is about the death of 21 year-old Matt Shepard, a college student who was beaten unconscious then hung on a fence to die by two young men, because he was gay. Like the murder of Emmet Till, who died because he was black, such an event inspires art. To just tell the facts of such a story isn't enough.
The story was written by children's author and poet, Lesléa Newman. Newman's evocative and beautiful poems look at that dark and frightening night from different points of view.
For instance, In her poem Something Snapped, Newman imagines what might have gone on in one of the killer's heads: I can't explain it./ He made me feel/ jumpy. My blood/ tore up my veins/ like a black pickup/ gunning down the highway./ My heart pounded/ like a fist/ banging on a door/ I didn't dare open./ I got hot under the collar. I was sweating bullets./ Who did he think he was?
Other poems endeavor to take us inside the heads of ordinary parents, find themselves fearing for their own kids' lives. Other poems take us inside the heads of the girlfriends of the killers. Other poems are from the point of view of a local church lady, the judge, a lawyer, and inanimate witnesses, if you will, such as the fence and the truck.
Those, like myself, who are also interested in the craft of poetry, will find at the end of the book an explanation of the poetic forms used by the poet.
This is an memorable book that I hope ends up in the hands of parents, teachers, high school students and anyone concerned with social justice.