Not every poem in Roger L. Stevens’ new collection is a winner. But when he hits a home run in Words to Warm Your Heart, he knocks it out of the park.
Stevens has a way with words, that is–but not because he’s a great poet. Instead, this one-time backslider with “countless sins” is a natural storyteller. We see this in his opening essay titled “My Testimony.” It’s the promising beginning of what might have been a classic American memoir about a boy gone wrong who finds the road to right. Yet after a couple of tantalizing pages of narrative prose in this collection of poems and brief prose pieces arranged by theme (“Words of Time and Eternity,” Words of Comfort and Joy,” etc.), Stevens switches gears, serving up poems that most often evangelize.
Too rarely he offers a storytelling gem like “The Antique Shop,” a charming tale of his discovery of a cut-glass pitcher sitting behind the dusty panes of an antique shop. Stunned at its beauty, he’s shocked at its price. Just $4. But it’s flawed. Held up to sunlight, it reveals one faint but ongoing crack. Stevens reflects: “If I were held up to the light,/ Against God’s brilliant shine,/ How many flaws would be exposed/ Within this life of mine?” It’s a lovely poem that asks just the right question: “Would I, like that pitcher,/ Seem as perfect as could be?/ While shadows cover up the sins/ That only God could see.”
Similar insight emerges in “The Deacon and the Hobo.” It’s Stevens’ skilled reflection on religious hypocrisy, told as a story without any preaching. Steven’s best poems follow that model, as does his prose. One hopes that in future work he will refine this approach, leaving preaching to preachers and focusing on the voice that all readers crave most: the storyteller.
Also available in hardcover.