ABOARD USS LAKE ERIE, Nov. 27, 2017 —
"Poetry is how I let it all out," Navy Petty Officer 3rd Class Antwoun Stevens said in a soft, but matter-of-fact way. "It's my heart."
Stevens stands 6 feet tall. He's strong, with the short, well-kempt hair you'd expect from a U.S. Navy sailor. He cracks jokes with the guys and dreams of being home with his newborn son, Immanuel, whom he has yet to meet.
Stevens is a yeoman aboard the guided-missile cruiser USS Lake Erie. He's on deployment in Subic Bay, Philippines, after spending several months in the Persian Gulf supporting combat operations. He processes reams of forms, letters and orders for more than 300 sailors aboard Lake Erie. Everything has to be perfectly formatted to Navy writing standards: precise, exact and perfect. There's no room for error or creativity.
What most of Stevens' shipmates don't know is he's also a self-published poet.
"When you think 'military,' you don't think 'poetry,'" Stevens said. "So it's an unnerving experience putting something out there for your peers to see and possibly judge."
Putting Emotions on Paper
Stevens developed a love for words early on and found sanctuary in putting his emotions on paper. He grew up on the north side of St. Louis, one of nine children. Money was tight, and his parents did the best they could with a large family to feed. His siblings often talked about what they wanted to be when they grew up, but to Stevens it seemed to be all talk. He knew he had to be different; he had to make his move.
"I always wanted to be a rapper," Stevens said. "On a dare, I got myself into spoken-word poetry. Words have always meant something to me, and poetry is what I loved the most. By the time I was 16, I was teaching poetry at a camp. Kids would come in really hesitant, but by the time they left, they had a love for it."
From then, his affinity for poetry just took off, he said. He made up his mind that he wanted to be a published poet, but didn't know how and when.
Determined to Achieve His Dream
By the time Stevens joined the Navy in 2014, he had yet to try his hand at writing a book, despite having already made a name for himself in his hometown as a poet. He had embarked on a new journey as a sailor, but he was determined to achieve his dream of getting published. He set to work putting his heart onto paper in the little time he had between shifts and studying for his job.
"I would write in my rack or get up in the middle of the night to find a free computer to type and edit," he said.
Stevens finally finished his book in July and used an online service to get it published.
"Publishing was actually a lot easier than you might think," said Stevens. "The most difficult aspect was making sure the book was in the right format. I sent in the 43 poems along with my cover design and signed the contract. When I finally received my hard copy, I couldn't stop smiling. This was it. This was my book. It was proof of something I created all by myself."
Titled, "When the Clock Strikes Twelve," Stevens' book is about his own life story -- his journey from growing up a big city to the sailor, man and father he has become.
"When my son asks me what I wanted out of life, I want to be able to tell him exactly what I wanted and the steps I took to achieve my dreams," he said. "I want him to understand who his dad was at that moment in time."
Seeking to Inspire
Modest about his writing, Stevens is working up the nerve to deliver the message of his poems to his shipmates, and that he hopes his words will be more than just read.
"I want people to take something away from the book," said Stevens. "Maybe someone is dealing with something internally that they can't tell anyone about. I hope that they find something in my book that helps them or gives them the strength to deal with it. Maybe the fact that the book is self-written and self-published inspires them. It might just inspire them to achieve something they've always wanted to do."
Navy Petty Officer 3rd Class Shanice Harrison from Ypsilanti, Michigan, a quartermaster assigned to USS Lake Erie, recently read Stevens' poetry and said she admires his work.
"It was real and raw, and I am so amazed by what he was able to create," Harrison said. "The fact that he wrote and published the book while on deployment floors me. So many people look up to Stevens, and I can't wait for everyone to read it. He has inspired me so much."
Now, as Stevens looks forward through deployment toward his new adventure as a father, he continues to write and is already well on the way to completing his next book of poetry.
"I'm taking an entirely different approach," he said. "It won't be anything like ‘When the Clock Strikes Twelve.' I hope people take to it."