128 pages; published September 2012
On October 6, 1998, a 21-year-old gay University of Wyoming student named Matthew Shepard was kidnapped, robbed, and fatally beaten by two local men. After 18 hours tied to a fence, bleeding, Matthew Shepard was found and taken to a hospital where he remained in a coma and eventually died on October 12, 1998. The case set off a media frenzy and brought unprecedented attention to the threat of anti-gay violence. This slim volume of simple poems expresses the devastation felt by Lesléa Newman in the wake of the crime.
This book came to me hot on the heels of my first viewing of “The Laramie Project” in an excellent production staged by the local community theater and shortly after the 14th anniversary of Matthew Shepard’s death. So, my mind was already full of his story when I plunged into the series of 68 simple, direct poems as stripped down and barren as the Wyoming landscape in which Matthew Shepard was tortured and suffered and died for being who he was – a gay man.
This poem particularly echoed in my head:
This is just to say
the gay panic defense
for pointing out
there was someone gay
and panicked that night
but that someone wasn’t you
Lesléa Newman carefully explains her connection to his story. As the author of the controversial and groundbreaking “Heather Has Two Mommies” and other books, Newman was the keynote speaker for the 1998 Gay Pride Week at the University of Wyoming (where Matthew was a student) which kicked off while he lay in a hate-driven beating induced coma, just one day before he died.
She is careful to explain that these are works of poetic imagination, not facts or real people’s words. This in no way diminishes their impact. The book is beautiful and sad.