Treasuring Poetry – Meet poet Leon Stevens and book review

Today, I am delighted to host artist, poet and author, Leon Stevens.

Leon Stevens

Which of your own poems is your favourite?

Wow. Starting off with the hardest question…I have written about many aspects of my existence, but I think some of the poems about ego and human nature are my attempt at understanding why people act the way they do. I still don’t get why some people are jerks.

Ego (Part II)

An ego is a big cat

That needs to be stroked

By you or someone else

Smaller cats are easy to please

And the bigger the cat

The more dangerous it is

To rub the wrong way

What inspired you to write this particular poem?

I wrote a series of poems about ego after spending some time observing how people interact with each other as individuals jockey for position within a group. While they do that, they seek affirmation to justify their perception of themselves. There are positives to egos, but if an ego is too aggressive, it can leave you rolling your eyes and shaking your head.

Which genre of poetry do you enjoy writing the most and why?

I don’t set out to write any particular form of poetry. Usually, as the words come to me, they will dictate how the poem will manifest itself. This leads to some erratic rhyming and rhythmic patterns, but often I find that a well-placed, unexpected rhyme can have a powerful effect.

My poems tend to be short—no more than a page—often 4-6 lines. They are like a snapshot of a moment or experience rather than a slideshow or movie.

Which genre of poetry do you enjoy reading the most?

I honestly do not read a lot of poetry. Maybe it is a way not to be influenced, which I hope makes my own poetry unique. I do follow many blogs that feature poetry, so most of what I do read comes from those sites.

I grew up with my father reading the poems of Robert Service. The Cremation of Sam McGee Is one that has always stuck with me (Dad had it memorized along with many others). It is a tale set during the Klondike gold rush which has a humorous, macabre twist.

The Cremation of Sam McGee by Robert Service

There are strange things done in the midnight sun
By the men who moil for gold;
The Arctic trails have their secret tales
That would make your blood run cold;
The Northern Lights have seen queer sights,
But the queerest they ever did see
Was that night on the marge of Lake Lebarge
I cremated Sam McGee.

Now Sam McGee was from Tennessee, where the cotton blooms and blows.
Why he left his home in the South to roam ’round the Pole, God only knows.
He was always cold, but the land of gold seemed to hold him like a spell;
Though he’d often say in his homely way that “he’d sooner live in hell.”

On a Christmas Day we were mushing our way over the Dawson trail.
Talk of your cold! through the parka’s fold it stabbed like a driven nail.
If our eyes we’d close, then the lashes froze till sometimes we couldn’t see;
It wasn’t much fun, but the only one to whimper was Sam McGee.

And that very night, as we lay packed tight in our robes beneath the snow,
And the dogs were fed, and the stars o’erhead were dancing heel and toe,
He turned to me, and “Cap,” says he, “I’ll cash in this trip, I guess;
And if I do, I’m asking that you won’t refuse my last request.”

Well, he seemed so low that I couldn’t say no; then he says with a sort of moan:
“It’s the cursèd cold, and it’s got right hold till I’m chilled clean through to the bone.
Yet ’tain’t being dead—it’s my awful dread of the icy grave that pains;
So I want you to swear that, foul or fair, you’ll cremate my last remains.”

A pal’s last need is a thing to heed, so I swore I would not fail;
And we started on at the streak of dawn; but God! he looked ghastly pale.
He crouched on the sleigh, and he raved all day of his home in Tennessee;
And before nightfall a corpse was all that was left of Sam McGee.

There wasn’t a breath in that land of death, and I hurried, horror-driven,
With a corpse half hid that I couldn’t get rid, because of a promise given;
It was lashed to the sleigh, and it seemed to say: “You may tax your brawn and brains,
But you promised true, and it’s up to you to cremate those last remains.”

Now a promise made is a debt unpaid, and the trail has its own stern code.
In the days to come, though my lips were dumb, in my heart how I cursed that load.
In the long, long night, by the lone firelight, while the huskies, round in a ring,
Howled out their woes to the homeless snows— O God! how I loathed the thing.

And every day that quiet clay seemed to heavy and heavier grow;
And on I went, though the dogs were spent and the grub was getting low;
The trail was bad, and I felt half mad, but I swore I would not give in;
And I’d often sing to the hateful thing, and it hearkened with a grin.

Till I came to the marge of Lake Lebarge, and a derelict there lay;
It was jammed in the ice, but I saw in a trice it was called the “Alice May.”
And I looked at it, and I thought a bit, and I looked at my frozen chum;
Then “Here,” said I, with a sudden cry, “is my cre-ma-tor-eum.”

Some planks I tore from the cabin floor, and I lit the boiler fire;
Some coal I found that was lying around, and I heaped the fuel higher;
The flames just soared, and the furnace roared—such a blaze you seldom see;
And I burrowed a hole in the glowing coal, and I stuffed in Sam McGee.

Then I made a hike, for I didn’t like to hear him sizzle so;
And the heavens scowled, and the huskies howled, and the wind began to blow.
It was icy cold, but the hot sweat rolled down my cheeks, and I don’t know why;
And the greasy smoke in an inky cloak went streaking down the sky.

I do not know how long in the snow I wrestled with grisly fear;
But the stars came out and they danced about ere again I ventured near;
I was sick with dread, but I bravely said: “I’ll just take a peep inside.
I guess he’s cooked, and it’s time I looked”; … then the door I opened wide.

And there sat Sam, looking cool and calm, in the heart of the furnace roar;
And he wore a smile you could see a mile, and he said: “Please close that door.
It’s fine in here, but I greatly fear you’ll let in the cold and storm—
Since I left Plumtree, down in Tennessee, it’s the first time I’ve been warm.”

There are strange things done in the midnight sun
By the men who moil for gold;
The Arctic trails have their secret tales
That would make your blood run cold;
The Northern Lights have seen queer sights,
But the queerest they ever did see
Was that night on the marge of Lake Lebarge
I cremated Sam McGee.

Poem credit: https://www.poetryfoundation.org/poems/45081/the-cremation-of-sam-mcgee

Book review: Lines by Leon: Poems, Prose, and Pictures

My review

Every now and then you discover a book of poetry which has you nodding your head in agreement and identifying with the views of the poet. For me, this was one of those books. Leon Stevens has an unerring way of aiming a poetic arrow straight at the heart of a difficult issue and exposing it for exactly what it is. This exposure is done with great dry wit, but it is nevertheless, brutally honest and truthful.

The poems in this book cover an array of topics including, inter alia, the poets personal viewpoints on specific matters, environmental experiences, the human conditions and how we relate with others, people and places, and ponderance and muse. There is a sprinkling of the poet’s own sketches throughout the book, and these, complement the humour and the simple, straightforward messages woven into these compelling poems.

This poem, called The Tendency to Cluster, was my personal favourite in this collection and demonstrates the points I’ve mentioned above:

People like orbs
Drawn by gravity
Unable to exist alone
Each dependent on the orbits of others
The only thing that keeps them
From being flung away
Needing others to define them
Needing to know
The quantum state of others
There are people
Content with singularity
In the colder outer regions
Emptiness brings strength, warmth, life
Occasional objects pass
Piquing curiosity
Worthy to share space (for a while)
Mostly continuing alone
Comfortable that orbits won’t decay

If you enjoy poems that speak clearly and simply about important matters, then you will enjoy this collection. Even if you don’t share the poet’s viewpoint, these poems will still make you think deeply.

Purchase Lines by Leon: Poems, Prose, and Pictures

Amazon US

Amazon UK

About Leon Stevens

Leon Stevens is a writer, composer, guitarist, songwriter, and an artist, with a Bachelor of Music and Education. He became a writer out of necessity. Along with song writing, poetry has allowed him to make sense and accept events and situations in his life. He published his first book of poetry: Lines by Leon – Poems, Prose, and Pictures in January 2020, a book of original classical guitar compositions, and a collection of science fiction short stories called The Knot at the End of the Rope and other Short Stories. Visit www.linesbyleon.com for free sample eBooks.


27 Comments on “Treasuring Poetry – Meet poet Leon Stevens and book review”

  1. Reblogged this on Robbie's inspiration and commented:

    My Treasuring Poetry article today features poet, artist, and writer, Leon Stevens. Do come over and learn about his thoughts on poetry and read my review of his excellent book, Lines by Leon. Thank you for hosting, Kaye Lynne Booth.

    Liked by 2 people

  2. Thank you for sharing another great feature, Robbie! This poem about “The Cremation of Sam McGee” has a good twist. I will go closer to the recommended collection, and wish you a nice weekend! xx Michael

    Liked by 2 people

  3. I enjoyed both of Leon’s trenchant commentaries on the human condition. The metaphor in each one is perfect! Last winter, I went to a Zoom reading at my college, and someone recited the very same “Cremation of Sam McGee”!

    Liked by 3 people

  4. beetleypete says:

    Good to see Leon featured here. I have shared both posts on Twitter.
    Best wishes, Pete.

    Liked by 3 people

  5. […] Treasuring Poetry – Meet poet Leon Stevens and book review — Writing to be Read […]

    Liked by 2 people

  6. balroop2013 says:

    Thanks for introducing another poet to us Robbie. Leon’s favorite poem ‘Ego’ made me smile! I call ego the younger sister of arrogance. 😊 Wishing him great success with his book, it sounds interesting.

    Liked by 4 people

  7. Enjoyed the interview, Robbie. Leon has the type of witty nature I most enjoy. Wishing him the best of luck!

    Liked by 3 people

  8. Lovely. I like the rhythm of The Cremation of Sam McGee by Robert Service. It makes me want to keep readin.g

    Liked by 3 people

  9. Enjoyed reading the interview and Leon’s poetry. Great review too!

    Liked by 3 people

  10. olganm says:

    I love both of Leon’s poems and the sketches as well: I think I’m one of those in the colder outer regions, but quite happy there. Good luck to the author with all his projects!

    Liked by 2 people


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s