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October Mourning: A Song for Matthew Shepard

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Goodreads Choice Award
Nominee for Best Poetry (2012)

A masterful poetic exploration of the impact of Matthew Shepard’s murder on the world.

On the night of October 6, 1998, a gay twenty-one-year-old college student named Matthew Shepard was lured from a Wyoming bar by two young men, savagely beaten, tied to a remote fence, and left to die. Gay Awareness Week was beginning at the University of Wyoming, and the keynote speaker was Lesléa Newman, discussing her book Heather Has Two Mommies. Shaken, the author addressed the large audience that gathered, but she remained haunted by Matthew’s murder. October Mourning, a novel in verse, is her deeply felt response to the events of that tragic day. Using her poetic imagination, the author creates fictitious monologues from various points of view, including the fence Matthew was tied to, the stars that watched over him, the deer that kept him company, and Matthew himself. More than a decade later, this stunning cycle of sixty-eight poems serves as an illumination for readers too young to remember, and as a powerful, enduring tribute to Matthew Shepard’s life.

111 pages, Hardcover

First published September 25, 2012

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About the author

Lesléa Newman

104 books216 followers
Lesléa Newman (born 1955, Brooklyn, NY) is the author of over 50 books including Heather Has Two Mommies, A Letter To Harvey Milk, Writing From The Heart, In Every Laugh a Tear, The Femme Mystique, Still Life with Buddy, Fat Chance and Out of the Closet and Nothing to Wear.
She has received many literary awards including Poetry Fellowships from the Massachusetts Artists Fellowship Foundation and the National Endowment for the Arts, the Highlights for Children Fiction Writing Award, the James Baldwin Award for Cultural Achievement, and two Pushcart Prize Nominations.
Nine of her books have been Lambda Literary Award finalists.
Ms. Newman wrote Heather Has Two Mommies, the first children's book to portray lesbian families in a positive way, and has followed up this pioneering work with several more children's books on lesbian and gay families: Gloria Goes To Gay Pride, Belinda's Bouquet, Too Far Away to Touch, and Saturday Is Pattyday.
She is also the author of many books for adults that deal with lesbian identity, Jewish identity and the intersection and collision between the two. Other topics Ms. Newman explores include AIDS, eating disorders, butch/femme relationships and sexual abuse. Her award-winning short story, A Letter To Harvey Milk has been made into a film and adapted for the stage.
In addition to being an author, Ms. Newman is a popular guest lecturer, and has spoken on college campuses across the country including Harvard University, Yale University, the University of Oregon, Bryn Mawr College, Smith College and the University of Judaism. From 2005-2009, Lesléa was a faculty member of the Stonecoast MFA program at the University of Southern Maine. Currently, she is the Poet Laureate of Northampton, MA.

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5 stars
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Displaying 1 - 30 of 772 reviews
Profile Image for Julie G .
870 reviews2,683 followers
February 27, 2019
My husband's job was relocated to Colorado in the summer of 1998, so we packed up the moving truck and headed West.

I had only known the West through the eyes of Laura Ingalls Wilder, Larry McMurtry and John Steinbeck, but as soon as the dust settled, I knew I loved it as they did. The West won me over with its open prairies, its big sky country and, of course, in Colorado, its gorgeous, non-stop panoramic views. Our little family drove everywhere we could that summer, and I found that I could not stop smiling. This is God's country, and we felt privileged to live here (still do).

But, just three months after our move, we were shocked to hear about the horrific murder of a Wyoming college student who had been abducted, beaten, and left for dead on a fence in a remote setting. Then, before we could barely process what had happened less than two hours from our house, we were shocked to see on the news that members of a Wyoming church were protesting at this murdered man's funeral, carrying signs that said things like, "God Hates Fags" and "Matt's in Hell."

Oh, no, no, no, no, NO.

All I could think was. . . what church is this? Who are these people who are calling themselves Christians? Holding signs saying "Matt's in Hell" before the grieving parents and friends at his funeral?

It's something that makes you want to shake and spit with the injustice. It's just so damned infuriating, that's what it is. And, having just finished Leslea Newman's 2012 book about Matthew Shepard's death, I am shaking again, angry again, and wondering why the people of our nation spend so much energy questioning relationships between two consenting adults when we have convicted and, more importantly, NOT convicted child molesters and rapists who are CERTAINLY not involved in consensual relationships. If only these same people would use their energy to protest with signs on our college campuses, "Stop Rape!"

I felt sad and angry reading Ms. Newman's book, but I still delight in the power of poetry to erase part of what's ugly and confusing and deplorable here. It's not enough, I know, but it's what you have, and, even though it hurts, it's good to remember injustices, so we don't repeat them.

Many of the poems are excellent, but this is the one that will stick to my brain:

The Biker
(I thought it was a joke. -Aaron Kriefels, mountain biker)

It was near
Folks were getting
Witches flew
across frozen front yards
Ghosts hung down
from cottonwood trees
Skeletons dangled
off rotten porch railings
I thought it was
a scarecrow's head
slumped over
that forsaken fence
not a smashed shattered
pumpkin of a boy
Profile Image for Kai Spellmeier.
Author 5 books13.5k followers
January 7, 2021
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

I expected to cry, and at the same time I thought, nah, it's just words, and it's poetry, which means even fewer words! I'll be fine. Reader, I was not fine.

I had heard of Matthew Shepard, had heard of the horrible hate crime that killed him, but I'd never made the effort to find out more. Sometimes, stories get too close, and I did not want to be hurt. Especially, when it feels so real, when it is real. Matthew Shepard was a gay student, who was lured into a truck by two homophobic men. He was taken out into a field, beaten senseless, tried to a fence, robbed, and found only 18 hours later. He died after five days in hospital.

This verse novel reimagines his story from a multiple of POVs: the wind, the street, the fence, the mother, a father, a girlfriend, the moon. They all saw or heard something. It is a deeply moving collection of poems, and I think a lot can be said about it, both for and against it. I think it's an important and memorable piece of writing and I can definitely recommend it. But it is not for you if you're in an unstable emotional space, especially for a queer person. It can be very upsetting because it's quite graphic and deals with life-destroying homophobia.

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Profile Image for Dave Schaafsma.
Author 6 books31.3k followers
August 23, 2017
I made a commitment twenty years ago that I would not forget Matthew Shepard. I think it was in part because of Doug, my Peter VanDaan from the high school production I directed of The Diary of Ane Frank who died later in Chicago of AIDS.

Gay, kidnapped by two straight drunk kids pretending to be gay, Aaron McKinney and Russell Henderson, Shepard was tied to a fence to die outside Laramie, Wyoming, and became what he never wanted to be, a kind of symbol for vicious violent rage against queer kids. Many gay young people still die the world over every day, but he became a symbol in the U. S., and his story serves as a kind of signpost on a road to freedom from homophobic hate that we are clearly still on. My sister is married to a woman, with two sons. I am a father, one of whom may well prey victim to a range of hateful acts for any number of ignorant beliefs. I live in a world of kids wanting to be themselves, wanting to be loved, some of them gay, some of them trans.

A YA text, a collection of 68 poems, in various forms, a kind of model for young people for the various ways and forms they and we might respond to the world, to grief. Thanks to S. who writes that she likes it more for its “being emotionally powerful than technically proficient," and I agree. Okay, it’s not "great poetry," in terms of technical skill, but it speaks to Newman’s grief, and the grief of many. Shepard's story is told from a pastiche of perspectives: a mother (that’s the key painful one for me, as a parent, her sweet son dead, who can face it?!), his cat, a nurse, friends, teacher, the killers, a teacher, the mother of one of the killers who destroyed his bloody clothes and helped her son make up a story to try to save his life, an officer of the court, Matthew himself, the perspective of stars that saw him die, the perspective of the fence he was tied to when he died. The collective impact for maybe especially young people is heartbreaking, pretty powerful. Is it sappy? Well, I don't know. A kid died because he was gay. Tell it. Tell it the best way you know how, with feeling, I say.

Are you sick of stories of Gay Pride and Rage, of the hate crimes on gay, lesbian, queer, transgendered, bisexual and transsexual people that still happen daily? Of Black Lives Matter? Do you think of this kind of story as a kind of mere “identity issue"? Well, remember: Trump says trans folks cannot serve in the military, they are not fully human, in 2017, but also know that the military leadership and the thousands off trans (and even more cis-gendered) people in the military say bullshit, and I say amen to that response.

Gay Awareness Week, University of Wyoming, October 1998, Leslea Newman, the author of Heather Has Two Mommies, is the scheduled keynote speaker. They call to say Shepard has died, will they cancel? She doesn't know Shepard, never heard of him, but she comes, she speaks. They hold Gay Awareness Week in his honor, with the whole world watching. She is now forever tied to this killing story in the memory of the University of Wyoming and in her own memory, of course. She writes out of her grief to speak to young people everywhere.

The epilogue is especially beautiful, her best writing, and the afterword is powerful, too, an appeal to action on the part of readers.

It’s powerful, it’s heavy-handed, it’s heartbreaking, it’s didactic, it’s sad, it’s emotionally manipulative, it’s not great poetry, it’s simplistic, and yet it’s what poetry can do for young people.

“I think I killed someone,” one of the killers said to his girlfriend.

“I wouldn’t call it a hate crime. All I wanted to do was beat him up and rob him.”

“I hated gay people. And now I hate them more. I have no regrets.”

I wish it weren't true, I say to my married lesbian sister, all my gay students, all my black students, all my students, my children. Stay safe. Vote with your body, be as well as you are able in these times.
Profile Image for Paul  Hankins.
770 reviews279 followers
April 20, 2012
This review of OCTOBER MOURNING: A SONG FOR MATTHEW SHEPARD is based upon the Advanced Reader Copy of the title.

Is it any coincidence that the very day this book was left on my doorstep is the very day that I would stay home with my son who was not feeling well when he woke up? Or that the book would arrive on the 20th of April, a day where LGBT students volunteer to go silent for the day in solidarity in order to create a sense of gay awareness.

Leslea Newman's rending of the events of October 6, 1998 and the week and the court case that would follow is anything but silent. And when I found out that I might be able to get an early read on this book, I felt in my heart that Leslea would be the perfect mouthpiece to tell this story.

I was affirmed by reading Leslea's notes in the back of the book (I often do this, especially with historically-based titles). "I have tried my hardest to imagine the last hours of Matthew Shepard's life. It is impossible to fathom the raw fear he surely felt as he begged for his life." Leslea goes on to write about her work as a poet, "As a poet, I know it is part of my job to use my imagination. It's part of my job as a human being."

From the forward wherein Leslea Newman tells us what Matthew Shepard and the University of Wyoming were preparing to do within the next week in order to promote gay awareness to the afterward wherein she tells us how she mentally prepared to give the keynote address at that very event, OCTOBER MOURNING is a stunning, poignant collection of poems that paints a picture of an event that none of us can ever afford to turn away from.

And in this collection of sixty-eight poems, in purposefully and powerfully selected forms, the reader is invited to see the events of October 6, 1998 from multiple view points to include the fence that offers both the prologue and the epilogue to the collection:

Out and alone
on the empty endless prairie

the moon bathes me
the stars bless me

the sun warms me
the wind soothes me

still still still
I wonder

from THE FENCE (before)(xv)

The fence becomes a central character within the collection offering some pacing from the events of October 6th the final moments of Matthew Shepard's life on Monday, October 12th, a day after the beginning of Gay Awareness Week would begin.

Newman's collection serves as a multi-voiced narration of the events

from a mother who has not talked to her son in sometime

from a bartender who wishes he could have offered a ride instead of a high-five

from a law enforcement official whose language changed the day he heard about what had happened

from the drag queen who packs up his gear in fear of what he sees/hears

from the cat who missed the kind-hearted boy who would hold it on his lap

from Matthew himself as he writes his own absent note to class

and from those who still couldn't get it, even while closer in proximity than most of the American public who got this news across a wire service somewhere. . .

While Matthew Shepard lay dying, a fraternity from Colorado State University proudly entered a float in their homecoming parade with a scarecrow with the words "I'm Gay" written across its chest, a morbid and sadistic reference to the first witness to Matthew Shepard's being left tied against a fence thinking that he was seeing a "Halloween prank" or a scarecrow." Newman pulls no punches in rendering these boys and their "joke" in a piece called THE FRAT BOYS:

Hey, that's really funny
Hey, that's really hysterical
Hey, that's really a riot

Hey, that'll knock 'em dead (51)

Newman's pieces are not marked by conventional punctuation, even at the ends of the pieces which creates a sense of urgency and importance as one reads through the account of what we--the general public--know of Matthew Shepard, the last five days of his life.

I don't know Matthew Shepard. And what I like about Newman's account of this story is that she did not either. She had been invited to the university to speak about censorship and responses to her book HEATHER HAS TWO MOMMIES. She began learning about Matthew Shepard on her ride into Laramie by the student who shared some of the town's history, pointing to the tallest building in town, the student dormitory.

What Leslea Newman gives to us with OCTOBER MOURNING is a chance to know Matthew Shepard while at the same time uncovering some of the deep-seated sentiments and misgivings that could have fostered an event that we are still trying to wrap our minds around some almost fourteen years ago.

The fence where Matthew Shepard was left to die, lashed to the wood with a thin white cord, has been since torn down. But Newman allows it to have some of the last words of the collection of poems:

prayed upon
frowned upon






broken down
broken up

ripped apart
ripped away

but not forgotten

There are many, many instances of lines and phrases that Newman employs that I could cite in this review, and I walk away from this first reading affirmed in my initial feelings about Newman's being tapped for this project. Newman offers notes on poetic forms used within the collection that would serve well in the writer's workshop setting with older readers.

Newman's collection serves as a poignant reminder as much as it does a persuasive thesis about not only remembering but taking a sort of action (not simply taking away pieces of the fence which was reported to have been happening as people began making a sort of "pilgrimage" to the fence) to assure that what happened to Matthew Shepard never happens again. Leslea offers in her notes at the end of the book:'

"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."
Profile Image for Kelly Hager.
3,097 reviews129 followers
September 17, 2012
This is a short book of poems all centered around the murder of Matthew Shepard. They're told from various perspectives (human but also inanimate objects including the fence that he was tied to).

I've read a lot of Leslea Newman's books and loved all that I've read. This is by far the best thing of hers that I've read. I hope it gets the widespread audience that it deserves, but I can't imagine any of my straight friends wanting to read a book of poems about a brutal murder.

That's too bad because every time I hear someone on Twitter (usually a friend of a friend) bemoan how ridiculous hate crime laws are ("because every crime is a hate crime!" they cry self-righteously), I think about Matthew Shepard and I wonder if those people (those straight white people) know how lucky they are.

If I had my way, this book woud be required reading. I know that you can't make people get it, but I think this poetry collection would go a long way.

At any rate, it is not an exaggeration to say that this book broke my heart. I fought tears the entire way (and lost---I cried more than I have in years) and wished that things could have been even a little bit different.

Judy Shepard, Matthew's mom, spoke at my college while I was there and I admire her strength and grace. Since her son's murder, she has made it her mission to travel and speak about Matthew and what happened to him. There are two ways to react to a senseless tragedy like this: it turns you into a crusader or it breaks you. She's become a crusader and I have so much respect for her because of it.

It's hard to recommend this book because I know that the people who need to read it the most are the people who won't go near it and who would actually scoff at it. But it's amazing and beautiful and heartbreaking.
Profile Image for Justin (Bubbas_Books) .
228 reviews13 followers
October 12, 2019
Wow. I’m not sure what else to say. I read this book in about 30 minutes and wished it hadn’t gone so quickly. Each poem is specifically written to capture something related to the murder of Matthew Shepard. Each poem is so well written that you feel like you were there with Mathew on the fence or at the trials against the murderers or grieving with his mother and father. An excellent collection and a must read for the LGBT community and its supporters.
Profile Image for Jessica Schwartz.
200 reviews11 followers
August 4, 2017
I was in middle school when Matthew Shepard was brutally murdered. His story had and continues to have a strong impact on me. As a Denver native, and as someone with gay friends and family members, the fact that something so terrible could happen so close to home was deeply saddening and unsettling.

I received a copy of this book a few months ago, but never felt ready to read it. "The Laramie Project" left me a sobbing, emotional mess and I assumed that this book would too. As it turns out, I had no need to be concerned about being moved by this book. "October Mourning" ended up having the opposite effect on me.

This book is incredibly problematic. Newman, a proudly out lesbian poet, was scheduled to present a talk the week after Shepard’s death for GLBT awareness week at the University of Wyoming, and Matthew’s death had a profound impact on her. This series of poems, as Newman explains in her introduction, “are not an objective reporting” of the events surrounding Matthew’s murder, but rather “[her] own personal interpretation of them.”

It’s clear that Newman went into this project with the best of intentions; however, I did not find the book to be successfully executed. Not only does it feel incredibly heavy-handed, didactic and emotionally manipulative, but much of the poetry is cliched and trite. I found myself rolling my eyes more than a few times! For example, one of the most heavy-handed poems of the bunch, "Where is My Boy?" is told from the perspective of Matthew's cat. "Where is the sweet boy who loves me so much,/ his whole face lights up at my purr or my touch?" the sad kitty implores. The cadence of this rhyming couplet make it sound like it was written by Dr. Seuss on anti-depressants.

In reading this, rather than bearing witness to the tragic events of the Matthew's death, I felt as though I were bearing witness to the author’s personal therapy session. I’m sure it was therapeutic for her to write, but these poems do not add anything to the conversation about Matthew Shepard. That said, though the poems fall flat, Newman’s prose introduction and epilogue provide a moving commentary about the author’s personal connection to the events, and for that I can give the book 2 stars.

The tragic story of Matthew Shepard is still incredibly relevant and important to share with today’s teens, but I don't think this is the book to do that with. Moises Kaufman’s "The Laramie Project" is a far more masterful and moving and tribute.
Profile Image for Donalyn.
Author 7 books5,907 followers
January 26, 2013
I put off reading this book in spite of the universal accolades it's received. I knew that Leslea Newman's poetic memorial to Matthew Shepard would leave me sad and emotionally drained. I'm a little ashamed that I was afraid. Matthew's life was not wasted as long as we bear witness to it and model lives of caring and love.
Beyond the power of Matthew's story, Newman's poetry represents exemplars of the form. A work of art and remembrance.
Profile Image for Gray Cox.
Author 4 books164 followers
September 22, 2018
"Then I was a person, now I am a headline."

I am disgusted that this happened to Matthew, I am disgusted that this still happens.

Rest in peace, Matthew.
Profile Image for Vicki.
2,153 reviews84 followers
August 3, 2015
Beautiful book in verse inspired by a real tragedy simply because of one boy's sexual orientation and two other boys who could't handle someone being different.

The poems in this book included some quotes from real people who spoke out on the senseless murder of Matthew Shepard. It really made the story's authenticity and senselessness come to life.

At the end of the book are notes from the author. Read them! They explain the quotes in more detail and where they came from.

Additionally, this is a book in poetry form and at the end of the book the author includes various types of poetry used for each poem, which (as an English teacher) I truly appreciated. Some forms are haiku, couplets, lists, concrete, acrostic, and poems modeled after a famous poet, William Carlos Williams. One of my favorites is "modeled after traditional Navajo prayer...[and] prayers from other traditions" such as the Kaddish, Bible, and Tibetan Buddhist prayer. This truly enriched my pleasure of this book. I would (and plan to) use this book in my classroom, perhaps during Gay Awareness Week.

Recommendation: Read this book and then go out and spread the idea that we do not have to live the same lifestyle as another, be of the same religion or skin color, or enjoy same sex partners as some do in order to respect one's choices in life. We human beings are all very different, and God bless that difference. But in no way am I better than another simply because they are different from me in any way, shape, or form.
Profile Image for Kellee Moye.
2,416 reviews427 followers
December 3, 2019
I was a junior in high school at a fine arts school of choice when Matthew Shepard was murdered. My two best friends were both gay. I remember that they were afraid of going anywhere alone after Matthew was killed. We cried for him. However, over time Matthew has become one of a way too big statistic. Though his horrendous death got a lot of press, hate crimes on gay, lesbian, queer, transgendered, bisexual and transsexual people happen daily.

Leslea Newman takes us into the night of Matthew's death. Her poetry examines the smallest detail of the night (the buck lying near Matthew) to the motives behind his murder. The poems' narrator range from the fence he was found tied to to his mother to the murders to the reactions of the gay community. It shows how this crime affected a nation of people and what we can learn from it.

Not only is this a story that needed to be told to young adults, but it is done in a beautiful novel-in-verse. Also, she makes sure to make the poetry accessible- she added "Notes" and "Explanation of Poetic Forms" for each poem. Each poem was set up so methodically and were based on truths. Both of these elements make it even more powerful.
Profile Image for Sharon.
282 reviews
April 2, 2013
Definitely an important book that should be offered to young people and should be in every YA collection, but the poetry is very uneven. May have helped Newman through the process of assimilating what happened to Matthew Shepard, but that need shows too clearly in the writing. There has been a great deal of praise showered on this book, but I wonder if it's at least partly because they are responding to the emotional impact, which it undoubtedly has.

Read aloud, many of the poems were more effective and poignant. The epigraphs, which are excellent additions to underscore the moving text of the poetry, particularly for the two girlfriends, work especially well in audio. Author's note gives necessary background to Newman's reasons for writing these poems; thorough documentation, source notes; helpful explanation of poetic forms.

A fine example of how print can be enhanced by being read aloud; this is particularly true with poetry. This multi-voiced performance elevates poems that bordered on ridiculous in print, to emotionally powerful. Emily Beresford, Luke Daniels, Tom Parks, Nick Podehl, Kate Rudd, and Christina Traister really do some great work here.

Profile Image for Jülie ☼♄ .
481 reviews22 followers
August 10, 2014


This is the true story of Matthew Shepard, a gay twenty one year old college student who, on the night of October 6th 1998 whilst visiting a bar in Wyoming, was conned into going with two other young men. They drove him to a remote place, tied him to a fence then beat him senseless....then left him to die.

Profound, extremely poignant and very, very moving... This is an important piece of writing, the message of which should be heard by all at least once.
This is a true story narrated through poetry.
I listened to the audio version and at first was not at all comfortable with its delivery, however once I got used to it I was totally riveted and was compelled to listen to it straight through.
It is not very long and can easily be listened to or read in an hour or two...with pauses.

Because of its emotional subject matter, this is is not an easy book to listen to, but it is an important one.
I would highly recommend this book for all, I know I will definitely read it again.

Profile Image for Allison.
668 reviews45 followers
March 3, 2016
So sad, I remember hearing about this in the news when it happened.

I like that the author decided to write it in verse because it definitely makes the books unique to others like it.
Profile Image for Elizabeth.
1,478 reviews52 followers
July 5, 2017
I was browsing the shelf at the library for a quick read when I stumbled across October Mourning. Just as most people who are aware of the sad fate that befell Matthew Shepard, my heart breaks when I think of it. No one deserves that fate, but Matthew Shepard deserves to be remembered. As some of the people who are nearest and dearest to my heart are LGBT, Matthew's story hits close to home for me, as it should hit close to home for us all. Leslea Newman does absolute justice to Matthew's story and his memory. As she reminds us in the afterword, we don't like to imagine, but we need to imagine. If we fail to imagine, we fail to enact change.

Every poem in this collection was poignant in its own way. Some were rage inducing, some brought heart sinking sadness, and others brought inescapable tears. In telling Matthew's story through poetry by giving us perspectives of everyone, we get to look at unique view points that make the feelings of rage and sadness intensify. Newman uses the viewpoints of friends and family and acquaintances, of the killers and their accomplices, of deer and cat, and even of the fence Matthew was tied to and the tree that became the box that holds Matthew's ashes. These unique perspective bring unique ideas to the table, ideas well worth examining. "The Doe," written about the deer found near Matthew at the fence as if it was looking after him, and "Where is My Boy?" written about the cat that Matthew was never able to come home to again, were the two poems that moved me the most. Something about the way they were written brought tears to my eyes, and I will remember them for a long time to come.

From a more clinical perspective, the poems themselves are well written, and use a variety of styles. I though Newman's choice to use different styles to convey different meanings was an excellent one, and a few of the styles were ones I don't actually have much experience with. I appreciated that she took the time at the end to explain what each style (common or otherwise) was called, and how it was used. I feel like this book is worth reading for any budding poet looking to expand their knowledge.

I would highly recommend this beautiful and poignant poetry anthology to... everyone? Teenagers and adults alike will find something to connect with, and we all need to imagine. It's a slim volume of poetry, making it a quick read. October Mourning is genuinely one of the most important poetry anthologies I have ever read.
Profile Image for Alyse Liebovich.
621 reviews68 followers
August 25, 2013
I've had this book on my "to-read" list since I heard Michael Cart talk about it at the ISLMA conference last October. When I saw Mr. Anderson rated it 5 stars a few days ago, it shot to the top of my to-read list. I checked out a copy from the library this morning and finished reading it in less than an hour.

Everyone should read this book of poetry, which, as a collection, is called a "song for Matthew Shepard," the 21-year-old college student who was kidnapped, beaten, and left for dead tied to a fence in rural Montana in October, 1998 all because he was gay. These poems, which are each written from a different point of view (including the moon, the fence, the killers, the cops, etc.), are incredibly moving, nauseating, and powerful.
Newman uses a variety of poetic forms and includes an explanation of those forms in the back of the book, in addition to a list of relevant resources.

I have a lot more to say about how meaningful these poems are, but I'm going to save those thoughts for a blog post, so for now I will leave you with a paragraph taken from the author's Afterword:

"I have tried my hardest to imagine the last hours of Matthew Shepard's life before he lost consciousness. It is impossible to fathom the raw fear he surely felt as he begged for his life. As a poet, I know it's part of my job to use my imagination. It's part of my job as a human being, too. 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."

Longer review on blog:
Profile Image for Matthew Galloway.
1,017 reviews29 followers
April 7, 2014
I'm not a real big poetry fan and while not all of the poems in this book spoke to me, those that did just made me tear up. Some of it is so beautiful and all of it is so sad. The poet definitely produces a wide range of poetry types, so likely most people can find at least one that speaks to them.
Profile Image for Paul Manytravels.
342 reviews27 followers
August 22, 2019
“October Mourning” is a tribute and memorials to a 5 foot one inch, 105 pound 21 year old who was beaten mercilessly while lashed to a fence by two larger armed men. The crime was horrific and beyond despicable, and it remains in the memories of anyone old enough to recall the crime. The savage murder was committed in Wyoming in 1998 but its impact continues to be felt and experienced.
This is a book largely told in poetry, although there is additional material in the beginning and end and a wonderful set of notes and references.
It is difficult to find good contemporary poetry. Many, many people create things that look like poems, but miss every element of what true poetry is. Poetry captures the reader, it moves and changes them, Its words create almost mystical messages far beyond the literal meaning of what is on paper.
When I read the introduction to “October Morning” in which the author says it is meant to be read sequentially from beginning to end, I felt like this book would end up being no more than a heavy-handed emotional outpouring designed to evoke sympathy and tears in readers. A GR review of the book from a reviewer I respect and follow, said as much. But my experience of the book differs from that of the unhappy reviewer.
For a poem to be good, it must transcend time, reveal something about the human heart and stand on its own. There are many excellent collections of poetry by many fine poets, but even in these, only some of the poems will reach that level. This book is no different. Some of its poems are deeply flawed in a variety of manners.
Also in other collections of actual good poets, there are poems that are universal, evoke feelings beyond their words, stand on their own,
not needing the context of the collection in which they are embedded. This book also fits into that description. Many of its poems, taken out of the context of the book, nevertheless stand on their own and could be reproduced in a good quality anthology of poetry any time.
This book is a snapshot of what hate looks like and of the damage done in its name. The book is an horrific reminder of what human beings are capable of. It is also a tribute to the empathy we can feel toward one another, even across years and the barriers of our dissimilarities.
Profile Image for Michelle Stimpson.
410 reviews8 followers
June 17, 2020
Logistically, I could have read this in one sitting. Emotionally, I could not. I did complete it in a day, but I had to take breaks. It's heartbreaking. It's raw. It's real. And we should never ever forget.

There is a notes section in the back which cite the references the poet used for each poem. There are more resources for those who want to explore the case in other ways (reading, film, etc.) And the poet gave an explanation of each form of poetry she used, which I thought was a really nice touch for a YA collection.

Profile Image for Nicole.
414 reviews
January 19, 2019
A beautiful tribute to Matthew Shepard, a gay college student who was brutally beaten in October 1998 by two assailants, strung up on a fence post and left to die outside of Laramie, Wyoming. He was found 18 ours later by a mountain biker. He never regained consciousness and died 5 days later in a Fort Collins hospital. This hate crime inspired new legislation against hate crimes and a movement for LGBT rights in Wyoming. Beautifully written, this book takes you through all the different aspects and points of view of what happened that night in poetry form. Beautiful and poetic, a fitting tribute to this young man who died much too soon.
Profile Image for Morvling Bookink.
146 reviews
May 21, 2021
How to break a heart, or open the door to the ere unknown moral insanities of the universe.
HOW DARE THEY!! How dare she write this book, so fabulous, so amazing, so (as aforementioned) heartbreaking. How dare they, how dare those people, carry out actions so putridly painful that we have true biographical and poetic stories to write about them.
A must-read LGBTQIAP+ book, for sure, once you've gotten rid of your fainthearted-ness.
Profile Image for bjneary.
2,354 reviews82 followers
August 28, 2017
I re-read this book as part of the August chat to read books from the 1980s and 1990s (written during that time or SET in that time period) for the 8/30 chat at 8pm EST, please join us! Newman's novel in verse is beautiful, horrible in it's sadness, insightful in the imagining of Matthew Shepard's murder, really EVERYONE must read this slim but HAUNTING imagining of his last night, October 6, 1998.

I want to thank Lauren Strohecker for this wonderful gift to our library and with it her advice that it is a must read for young adults. I wholeheartedly concur; in 68 poems in this spare, yet piercing novel in verse, the author was scheduled to speak at Matthew Shepard's college and found out just before about the savage beating this young man received. Leslea Newman kept her keynote engagement and spoke and wept at the sheer horror of this hate crime toward an innocent victim who succumbs to death 5 days later. Newman has taken many elements of Matthew Shepard's last hours and imagined what may have been; the road, the fence he was lashed to, the biker, the murderers, the pistol, the deer and so much more. This book is a tribute to Matthew Shepard who died as a result of a hate crime at the hands of gay haters. This book is also a history lesson that every child, young adult and reader needs to explore because in the reading of this book, you will be changed. This book needs to be read by everyone.
I especially gained even more knowledge through the author's introduction, her epilogue, her afterword, notes, explanation of poetic forms and resources. Newman brings sympathy, anger, sorrow, and compassion to each and every word in this book. Highly recommended.
Profile Image for Kirsten.
277 reviews16 followers
June 1, 2019
This was beyond powerful. I had no idea what this was about when I picked up it, but it was touching and moving. The poems in this are so beautiful, no matter what perspective the author was trying to portray. I'm honestly speechless, there are really no other ways to describe the emotion and beauty within each poem.

This novel in verse is about Matthew Shepard who was killed brutally for being gay in 1998. The author knew Matthew very well, and what she does is try to show us how she thinks each person who was connected to him.

Overall, this was an amazing book. I am so pleased to have read it, and it's just beyond words. I highly recommend this. It's so important. I would say it's mostly for middle school students and above. Read as soon as possible!
Profile Image for Elizabeth☮ .
1,509 reviews11 followers
June 12, 2019
This is a powerful collection of poems paying tribute to the life of Matthew Shepard. The scope of the types of poems is impressive and the POV Newman covers even more so.

I recall vividly when this heinous crime was committed. I can't believe the amount of suffering Shepard's family must have endured. But this collection provides a perspective that offers healing and reminds us to have compassion for those that are different than ourselves.

I'm so glad I picked it up at my school library.
Profile Image for Kurt.
606 reviews10 followers
December 13, 2019
Deceptively simple. “Scared to Death” moved me to tears. Eminently teachable and mimic-able. The poems in this collection mimic famous poems (eg, “This is just to say”) and work in specific forms and formats (eg, sestina, “Though we are x, we are not y”) that lend themselves to being copied. I like the idea of having kids pick their own moment in history to write five poems about, using OCTOBER MOURNING as a roadmap. I think they could nail it.

RIPower Matt Shepard and all people murdered for being themselves—particularly POC, who suffer those murders disproportionately.
Profile Image for Melyssa.
39 reviews
April 24, 2013
I really appreciate what the author was trying to do with this novel. I also think that remembering what happened to Matthew Shepard and trying to positively impact your community are very important. To me, the most meaningful parts were the Introduction and the Afterword. They gave an overview of the author's position and the lasting impact that the violence against Matthew and his subsequent death have had. I would have rather read more essays like that, then poems.
Profile Image for Stacy Slater.
95 reviews3 followers
August 11, 2016
Rather than a novel in verse, which is such a popular format, Newman instead offers a collection of 68 poems centered on the tragedy of Matthew Shepherd's horrific death. Newman imagines a wide variety of perspectives, including those of the killer, of Matthew himself, and of the fence that stood as silent witness to the brutality. I had to pause several times while reading this slim book to catch my breath and wipe tears from my cheeks.
Profile Image for Blair.
113 reviews44 followers
September 14, 2019
Please just read it.

For more information, please see Kirsten’s review. (Shoutout of her, thank you for being Goodreads friends with me so that I can see what you’ve rated highly so I can check out too many books from the library at once.)
Profile Image for Kirsten.
162 reviews21 followers
April 2, 2019
This was beyond powerful. I had no idea what this was about when I picked up it, but it was touching and moving. The poems in this are so beautiful, no matter what perspective the author was trying to portray. I'm honestly speechless, there are really no other ways to describe the emotion and beauty within each poem.

This novel in verse is about Matthew Shepard who was killed brutally for being gay in 1998. The author knew Matthew very well, and what she does is try to show us how she thinks each person who was connected to him.

Overall, this was an amazing book. I am so pleased to have read it, and it's just beyond words. I highly recommend this. It's so important. I would say it's mostly for middle school students and above. Read as soon as possible!
Profile Image for Molly Dettmann.
1,311 reviews18 followers
October 24, 2021
It’s hard to write this review without wanting to just cry at the injustice of it all. These poems capture the pain, hate, and sorrow that was the murder of Matthew Shepard, who died from injures from a kidnapping and severe beating on Oct 12, 1998. Though a lot of what is in this collection is jarring, it is necessary to not shy away from the horror that happened to Matthew. Using various poetic forms, the author explorers this tragedy from the point of view of everyone involved, from the fence they found Matthew’s body on, to the frat brothers who mocked the killing as a part of their homecoming float. The author’s note also adds a personal touch to her own connection to Matthew’s death and why she wrote this collection of poetry. A must read (but again, very difficult).
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