Last week, Teen Tuesday encouraged (pleaded, cajoled, threatened) readers of YA literature to join the YALSA Hub Challenge and read 25 of this year’s award winning books by June 22nd. There’s still plenty of time to participate! Earn a cool badge and possibly the grand prize . . . . Read all about it in last week’s post, where you’ll also find a link to the book list.
With seven books down and 18 to go, here is my first review.
October Mourning: A Song for Matthew Shepard by Lesléa Newman
This slim volume of 68 poems chronicles the events that led to the death of Matthew Shepard, the University of Wyoming student who was brutally beaten, robbed and left tied to a fence one very cold October night. Lesléa Newman explains in the introduction that one of the last things Matthew did was attend a planning meeting for Gay Awareness Week that was set to begin in several days. She was the event’s keynote speaker. She arrived on campus the day he died.
As a work of historical fiction, October Mourning uses several poetic forms and devices to imagine specific moments from before that night and after. Some of the poems are written as narratives from people and objects: the doctor, one of the attackers, Matthew himself, the fence, the truck. There are concrete poems, haikus, and rhymed couplets; while a few are simply lists, and some are even in the style of William Carlos Williams’ famous apology poem “This is Just to Say.” Explanations of the poetic forms used are included at the end of the book, making this a great resource for poetry studies, and while the poems are meant to be read as a whole, there are a number that could easily stand alone for classroom discussions.
View this book as a poetic exercise alone and you’ll be impressed with the way the different forms highlight and capture the emotional impact of each carefully crafted poem. The majority of the poems are short and very accessible. It’s the visual imagery that is heartbreaking. Take, for example, the poem “What You Can Do in Eighteen Hours” which starts out in a relatable way with “Write a term paper/Cram for a final/Fly across the ocean” but concludes, “Wait to be discovered/lashed to a fence/Shivering under a blanket/of stars.”
View this book in its historical context and dare to be left dry-eyed. In writing October Mourning as a tribute to Matthew Shepard, Lesléa Newman chose verse to fully explore feelings of fear, hate and grief, but also empathy and understanding. This little book shines a glaring light on a senseless tragedy and makes a powerful plea for compassion. As Lesléa Newman states, “Because only if each of us imagines that what happened to Matthew Shepard could happen to any one of us will we be motivated to do something. And something must be done.”