Child poet, old soul wisdom
June 23, 2004 10:01 PM   Subscribe

Remembering the amazingly mature poetry of Mattie Stepanek: national goodwill ambassador with muscular dystrophy, and 13 year old prodigal wordsmith.
posted by moonbird (7 comments total)
I've been vaguely aware of this kid, mostly due to glimpsing him on Larry King as I flipped by. (Usually I think, hey is that the kid from Jerry Maguire?) To the extent I've thought of him, it's been to consider his poetry oh-so-very Parade Magazine/Readers' Digest schmaltz.

And now, of course, after his death I've actually read some of the stuff. Sure, some of it is obviously childish (truly, in the most non-perjorative sense of the term). But then I'll come across some of his poems (see moonbird's links), and...

When I was thirteen, my greatest achievement was spending most of my time masturbating and playing Atari. Even now...well, I have a PlayStation 2 now. Mattie Stepanek had a form of musclar dystrophy that not only would kill him, it had already killed three of his siblings. That he did anything besides despair and lay down and die is amazing. That he wrote poetry of this caliber at such a young age is, frankly, amazing, and it gives me a little hope for the potential of this species.
posted by Guy Smiley at 10:51 PM on June 23, 2004

Prodigious, surely. 'Prodigal' means wasteful.
posted by methylsalicylate at 4:05 AM on June 24, 2004

There's an Onion article about him [not specifically about him, but for all intents and purposes, referring to him], but it's in the Premium section. Do a search for "poetry" over there, can't miss it. I mean, you can afford to miss it, especially if you liked Mattie Stepanek, but it's clearly visible in the results.
posted by britain at 5:30 AM on June 24, 2004

"Heartsong" reminded me of a wonderful short book called "The Soul Bird" (which my friend acquired from a used book store... I can't find it on Amazon).
posted by thebabelfish at 7:00 AM on June 24, 2004

Oh god.

I feel bad for the kid, but did no one see the appearances he had where his mother guided his answers to every question? He must have had the worst stage mother of all time - particularly because she wasn't capitalizing on his talent, but on his illness. I wouldn't be shocked to discover she'd written that tripe that passed for poetry, either.

It's a great marketing gimmick for the mom - she makes a boatload of money on her kid's pain and suffering, which of course he'll never collect on because she knew he'd die at an early age.

Seeing this kid gave me the creeps - not the kid himself, who struck me as fairly nice and such, but not any great shakes one way or the other. But his mother and the body language between them was shocking and reminiscent of interactions between children and abusive parents. It felt like I was seeing a child not being creative, but being used.

I'm sorry he's dead. He seemed like a nice kid. But his poetry was godawful - yes, even for his age. Believe it or not, kids of age 10 or 12 are capable of writing really, truly well. By calling this stuff "amazing" for his age, you're disparaging some really talented adolescents.
posted by u.n. owen at 8:47 AM on June 24, 2004

So all it takes these days to be a gifted artist is a terminal disease? Argh, when will people stop assigning hero status to anyone who's terminally ill? And yeah, if it wasn't for the mom no one would probably care about him anyway.

Who doesn't have Imminent Death Syndrome?
posted by raygun21 at 11:33 AM on June 24, 2004

Prodigious, surely. 'Prodigal' means wasteful.

Good call without the gravepiss. Thanks!
posted by moonbird at 11:40 AM on June 24, 2004

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