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Tea Leaves: a memoir of mothers and daughters by Janet Mason (Bella Books April 2012) is now available -- click here for more info

Janet Mason writes regret with power. Whether this arduous journey is before or behind you, you'll recognize the visceral fear of loss and the longing for peaceful passage.
—KG MacGregor

check out Janet Mason's author blog

Share on Twitter review --October Mourning: A Song for Matthew Shephard
by Leslea Newman

This was aired on This Way Out! Click here to hear the entire broadcast!!cover of October Mourning Song

When I picked up Leslea Newman’s newest book October Mourning: A Song for Matthew Shephard (Candlewick Press), I could not put it down.  Matthew was a 21 year old student at the University of Wyoming, who on October 6th, 1998 was lured from a bar by two young men, savagely beaten, tied to a fence on the outskirts of Laramie, and left to die.  One of the last things that Matthew did was to attend a meeting of the University of Wyoming’s Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, and Transgendered Association.  The group was planning its Gay Awareness Week activities for the following week. Leslea was the keynote speaker. 

The author of many books, Leslea is perhaps best known for her book Heather Has Two Mommies – first published in 1989 to national scorn and acclaim. She is also known for her short story “A Letter to Harvey Milk,” a 2012 selection of the New York Musical Theater Festival 2012 Next Link Project.

With October Mourning: A Song for Matthew Shephard, Leslea has written yet another classic.  In this slim volume of poetry, she gives us the universe surrounding Matthew Shephard’s death – including poems from the perspective of the fence where he was left to die – Out and alone/ on the endless empty prairie …. will anyone remember me/ after I’m gone? –the world --  “There were about / 6 billion people/ in the world/ that night ….. “There were maybe / 26 thousand people/ in Laramie / that night”….  and ending with “There were precisely/3 people / in that Ford pickup/ that night …. 2 triumphant/ 1 terrified.”

She also writes poems from the perspective of the murderers --  “I can’t explain it. / He made me feel /jumpy. My blood/ tore up my veins/like a black pickup/ gunning down/  the highway… their girlfriends – one poem starting with the quote –“I was protecting someone I love”  -- his mother – “Buckle your seat belt./Look both ways before you cross.  Don’t talk to strangers./” —the truck—“I confess:/ I was wildly driven/ I took a wrong turn/….the clothesline that Matthew was bound with –“They strung me along/ I got tangled up/ They roped me in/ I was fit to be tied – the candles in the vigil –“When the teacher/ who praised him/lit me/ I glowed…..When the lover/who knew him/lit me/ I trembled.” 

In her spare and deft poetry, Leslea writes about what the murder of Matthew Shepherd immediately meant to others like him.  In the first two stanza’s of “The Drag Queen,” she writes “The minute it happened/ my silver sequin slingbacks/ slid back/ into the closet/  The minute it happened/ my glittery gold gowns/ slipped back/ into the closet.”  October Mourning explores and exposes the attitudes that allow such a crime to happen.  In “The Cop”  (who admits in the opening quote that he was never any good when it came to gay issues) the words (derogatory hate words for everyone gay) “flew out/ of my mouth/ for good.” 


“Sorry Boy” starts out with a quote from The New York Times that the judge rejects “Gay Panic” as a defense.

This is just to say
I’m sorry
to deny
your request
to use
the gay panic defense
Forgive me
for pointing out
the obvious:
there was someone gay
and panicked that night
but that someone wasn’t you.
October Mourning: A Song for Matthew Shephard is written as a world – in which we see the stars scattered above Matthew “unable / to/ help/   being / light / years away.”  It addresses the question of how such a heinous crime can happen.  And in the Afterword, Leslea asks the reader to think of one thing to do to end homophobia and to do it this week.
October Mourning is a strongly evocative and powerful collection of poetry.  Part of my own response to it, no doubt, comes from my memory of the murder of the young gay artist Anthony Milano who lived in the same town where I grew up and was murdered (under eerily similar conditions) in 1987, more than a decade before Matthew Shephard was murdered.  Unfortunately, Matthew was not the first person to be murdered for being gay and he wasn’t the last.  But, for whatever reasons, Matthew Shephard stands as a symbol.  Leslea Newman opens his world to us –under the wide Wyoming sky – in the pages of October Mourning: A Song for Matthew Shephard.

































































































































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