Disabled poet counts herself lucky
August 19th, 2014
Born with severe cerebral palsy, unable to walk or talk, Kirsteen Main began writing poetry at the age of 12. She records her words through ‘facilitated communication’, which involves someone holding her arms while she points to letters on an alphabet board, spelling out what she wants to say. She has now published a collection of poetry, Dear Butterfly (self-published, $25 2014) described by poet and literary catalyst Mary Billy as a rare example of “a writer talking about what it felt like to be a disabled child, from the inside. That is, not someone else writing about her.” Much of the poetry is uplifting, even optimistic. “We live in such a ‘doing’ society that people with disabilities are automatically pitied because they usually can’t ‘do’ in the same way as everyone else, instead of seeing the potential inner benefits of their lives. Just because you can’t do, can’t work, don’t produce, don’t have a career, doesn’t mean to say that you are not valuable… Even though I live with cerebral palsy (and cannot walk or talk or do anything for myself), my life is still rich and fulfilling. And I am not unique. There are many others like me.” But Main is not one to simply see life through rose-tinted glasses. Two poems entitled ‘Hospital Blues’ recall the ordeal of encountering a condescending physician and being intubated several times during a difficult hospital stay in 2010. “I’m staggered by Dear Butterfly,” says documentary filmmaker and disabled author Bonnie Sherr Klein, “and grateful to Kirsteen and her collaborators who bring it to us. I thank Kirsteen for offering us her grief and pain so baldly and boldly.” Kirsteen Main has presented her poetry at the Kickstart Festival of Disability Arts and Culture and performed at open MIC nights in East Vancouver where she holds centre stage while her poems are read to the audience by her workers or family members. Some of her work has been published by the Poetry Institute of Canada as well as in the 2004 We’Moon datebook. Kirsteen collaborated with her sister Cat in writing a script for a piece called ‘sistershow’, which they performed at the Firehall Theatre for BCBuds in May 2008, and subsequently at other locations. Kirsteen Main also paints at her home in Vancouver. “I’m lucky,” she writes. “No one expects anything of me. It’s like being given an ideal life for inner exploration.”
Dear Butterfly is available via the PLAN online bookstore.