Loving Through Heartsongs

Sara Pisak, Opinion Editor

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Loving Through Heartsongs, written by 13 year old poet Mattie J. T. Stepanek, was published in 2003. Loving Through Heartsongs is one of those texts that finds itself somewhere between too old to be considered a new release but published recently enough that its place in the literary world has yet to be classified. Personally, this text has a clearly defined place in literary history because of its courageous author.

Mattie’s website, as well as the book’s jacket, informs readers that Mattie Stepanek was diagnosed with Muscular Dystrophy. Not allowing his health struggles to slow him down, Loving Through Heartsongs marked his third New York Times Best Selling book all before his fourteenth birthday. Mattie should be acknowledged, as few authors at such a young age enjoy this type of success. Loving Through Heartsongs features an introduction by world renowned author Maya Angelou. In addition to prominent authors introducing his works, Mattie has several other literary and humanitarian awards to his name. Mattie has appeared on shows such Oprah, Good Morning America and Larry King. His poems have also appeared in national newspapers and magazines.

2002 was a pinnacle year for Mattie and his accomplishments as he was awarded the Children’s Hope Medal of Honor, the Verizon Courage Award and the Pediatric Nursing Society of America’s Humanitarian Award. Also in 2002, Mattie, who resides in Maryland, was named his home state’s Goodwill Ambassador for the Muscular Dystrophy Association. He was also named Muscular Dystrophy’s National Goodwill Ambassador. Sadly Mattie died in 2004, days before his fourteenth birthday; however his legacy lives on through his poetry.

Once a reader selects Loving Through Heartsongs, the text can be read cover to cover in an afternoon. What makes Mattie’s book of poetry one that is difficult to put down and one that should be discussed? Simply, it is the author’s intuitive nature. Each poem found in Loving Through Heartsongs showcases a different human emotion. Poets and critics will often state: “Read a collection of poetry from cover to cover and you will often become bored or disinterested.” This disinterest is common as writers are driven by similar triggering subjects and emotions. This results in a collection of poems often having similar themes or similar diction. Judging solely by the title, Mattie’s works are about the driving forces behind the sentiment of love. A reader might be tempted to inquire, “What does a thirteen year old boy know about love?” I advise you not to be hasty when posing this question. Mattie knows exactly what he is talking about and can describe these emotions far better than someone three or four times his age.

I feel as a writer, expressing life’s most difficult to pinpoint sentiments or troublesome attitudes are often stated best by children. Mattie’s poems are no exception to this finding. Similarly, like most children, they possess a unique innocence stemming from their own personal life moments. Mattie possesses this innocence and his poems have a child-like quality of being pure in heart, in mind and in action. However, Mattie’s poems express profound and mature concepts and he does so in unadulterated genuineness. The innocence, genuineness and authenticity Mattie articulates in his work does not mean he is unworldly or gullible. In fact, it means exactly the opposite.

Mattie’s authenticity is refreshing and wise beyond his years. Loving Through Heartsongs does not contain a bitter or a rancorous line, as love through a child’s eyes is not vengeful or spiteful. Mattie writes, “And when the letters and words/ Of those Heartsongs bring some/ Peace to the countries and people/ Who have war in their lives, / That is real happiness/ To me.” These verses showcase the combination of innocence and profoundness contained in Mattie’s poetry. More accurate than most, Mattie is self-aware of the affect his words and sentiments (Heartsongs) have on the world.

Although the time has not come to decide where Mattie stands in the literary hierarchy, it is obvious to me that his works should occupy a space within the poetic world. I think some individuals might be tempted to call these poems “simple” or “uncomplicated” as Mattie does not employ poetic techniques one would learn in a college setting. However, the poems present the tenacity and honesty of the human spirit. It often seems as a person grows older, they hold tighter to more jaded life experiences, blocking them from experiencing child-like joy and honesty. These experienced individuals, who have lost their child-like joy, are the ones who can benefit from Mattie’s integrity and sincerity the most.

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