Nearly 14 years after the unspeakable tragedy that put Laramie, Wyo., on the hate crimes map, lesbian literary icon Newman offers a 68-poem tribute to Matthew Shepard.
Readers who were infants on October 6, 1998, may learn here for the first time how the 21-year-old Shepard was lured from a bar by two men who drove him to the outskirts of town, beat him mercilessly, tied him to a fence and left him to die. Ironically, months before Shepard’s murder, Newman had been invited to Laramie to speak at the University of Wyoming’s Gay Awareness Week and actually delivered her keynote address on the day he died. This cycle of poems, meant to be read sequentially as a whole, incorporates Newman’s reflections on Shepard’s killing and its aftermath, using a number of common poetic forms and literary devices to portray the events of that fateful night and the trial that followed. While the collection as a whole treats a difficult subject with sensitivity and directness, these poems are in no way nuanced or subtle. For example, Newman repeatedly employs personification to make inanimate objects, such as the fence, road, clothesline and truck, unwitting accessories to the crime, and she imitates William Carlos Williams’ “This Is Just to Say” false-apology format no fewer than four times with mixed results.
Though somewhat heavyhanded, these poems are sure to instill much-needed empathy and awareness to gay issues in today’s teens. (Poetry. 14 & up)