BY STARRLA CRAY
WINSTED, MN Sixty miles from Juneau, AK, Jack Campbell finds inspiration all around him in the crystal clear water, the abundant wildlife, and the quiet people he encounters.
“I live in a fairly remote area,” he said. “The only way to get here is by boat or plane there are no roads.”
Campbell grew up in Winsted, and now lives in a hand-built cabin in Excursion Inlet, near Glacier Bay National Park. He has traveled extensively since he graduated from Holy Trinity High School in Winsted in 1966, documenting his experiences through poetry.
His first book, “Four Fevers” was published in 2008.
The second, “The Outhouse Spider” is now for sale, and can be purchased online through Todd Communications, a publisher of Alaska-related books. The illustrations were created by Campbell’s niece, Lynn, a graphic designer in Seattle, WA.
“I write a lot about nature and the land,” Campbell said.
His poem, “Nenana Sunset Symphony,” for example, begins like this:
Ten million paintbrushes rooted in ice.
Barely warmth in a breath to melt
colors on a palette with which
to stroke the horizon beyond
blues, magentas, oranges, pinks.
Some of Campbell’s poems shine a light on people. “Tourist,” for instance, speaks of green-vested guides and energy bars, while “Aunt Jen” tells of hands that work beneath a red and white apron.
“I feel like a photographer with words,” Campbell explained. “I enjoy capturing an idea from a different angle.”
Teaching and learning
Campbell became interested in writing more than 40 years ago, after being encouraged by professors at St. Cloud State University.
He earned a degree in English education in 1970, and accepted a teaching job in Montana soon after. In 1981, Campbell attended grad school in Missoula, MT for a master’s degree in English.
“I moved to Alaska in 1984, and taught school in Alaska for about 25 years,” he said.
By the time he finished his career, Campbell had taught a multitude of subjects, and had served as a university instructor, content specialist, and literacy coordinator.
Being a literacy coordinator was among the highlights.
“There’s nothing more exciting than watching a kid learn how to read,” he said.
Locations ranged from urban, to suburban, to rural.
Some of the spots were so rural that Campbell lived without running water, and commuted by snowmobile (called a snow machine) in the winter, and by boat in the summer.
“The rivers are like highways,” he said.
Eskimos, Africa, and Winsted
Campbell also had the opportunity to become friends with many Eskimos.
“I have tremendous respect for the Eskimo culture,” he said. “They can say a lot with just a few words.”
Eskimos are able to travel in extreme conditions, live in stark homes void of many modern conveniences, and “have an incredible family support system.”
Campbell is currently writing his third book of poems, which he hopes to have translated into the Alaskan Yupik Eskimo language.
He is also working on poems about a recent wildlife trip to Africa.
“I like to throw myself into different geographical situations,” Campbell said, explaining that he enjoys exploring nature, whether it’s searching for big cats in Tanzania, or whale watching near his home.
His first geographical location, Winsted, was also a positive influence on Campbell’s life.
“I’m so grateful I was able to be raised in the Winsted area,” he said. “It’s a community of very friendly and helpful people.”
Campbell’s father, Matthew, was a veterinarian in the area before he passed away in 1982; and his mother, Marie, now lives in Montana.
To learn more about Campbell and his poems, go to jackcampbellpoetry.com.