Borrowing from Paulo Coelho’s The Alchemist (2006) for its epigraph, Jack’s collection of free-verse poems and newspaper columns channels an optimistic perspective on life.
“Signposts along the path of my life,” Jack says of the stories and poems comprising his first book. In it, he tells the story of his homecoming back to southern Colorado and self-discovery after his career took him away for more than 20 years. But when he came home to the San Luis Valley, vivified by his newfound love of horses, he was able to ponder the course of his life. His newspaper writings reflect lessons learned: He thanks those who gave him moral support, notably his mother and father and his friend Diane; reflects on how time flies; considers ties to ancestors, parents, children and grandchildren; unpacks the definition of professional success; and reveals the secret to a happy marriage. “You find the person you love and just keep working on it,” says his mother, who’s been married to his father for more than 60 years. His everyman’s voice—cultivated in his years as a columnist—fosters a familiarity with readers that helps his hard-earned advice go down easily This method is particularly effective when Jack takes on controversial topics, as when he criticizes the tenure process for professors, or when he suggests that we should be choosier in deciding whom to trust. His poems explore similar themes in simple language with inspirational overtones, in a style evocative of Mary Oliver’s praise poems, though without her religious concerns. Jack’s meditations are more rooted in human-to-human contact: our relationships with one another and our surroundings. He tends to lean heavily on cliché—“Lost in loneliness, / Searching for a flicker / Of hope”—but he’s also capable of capturing memorable images, especially in describing the singular geography of the American West. In “Storm on the Horizon,” for instance, he describes city lights that make “Albuquerque seem so alive we could watch it grow.”
Inspirational advice on forging one’s own path, in bite-size verses and columns, with a few rough patches, but nonetheless rewarding for optimistic readers open to the journey.