The Full Life of Georgia’s 2011 Senior Poetry Laureate

The e-mail bearing the news that Emery L. Campbell of Lawrenceville, Georgia, has won the title of 2011 Georgia Senior Poet Laureate slipped into my inbox with the modesty and grace characteristic of Campbell.

A true gentleman whom age cannot seem to hold down, the 84-year-old business-executive-turned-poet is no stranger to winning contests. This year, the piece that earned him the deserved SPL honor was “Declaration of the Forswearing of Ophidian Decortication.” Chew on that title for a minute.

“This is familiar territory,” Campbell noted, very comfortable in his current position. “I’ve won the title SPL before,” he stated dismissively. “I took up poetry in 1994 after I retired from the commercial scene,” the widely published multi-linguist affirmed.

This year’s 19th annual Senior Poet Laureate competition included participants from all 50 states with 900 poems entered by 219 poets. It was not Campbell’s first success in the contest.

According to the sponsor, Amy Kitchener, Emery has represented Georgia several times by winning the SPL poetry competitions at the state level, and he took the prestigious National Senior Poet Laureate award once in 1999. He has also won numerous prizes in state and national poetry contests over the years.

“My poetry is constructed, not inspired,” he said. “It is mostly rhymed and metered traditional verse. I choose my words carefully, making extensive use of a rhyming dictionary and a thesaurus.” When asked about his muse, Campbell characterized it as “a bit of a mystery.”

Campbell admits that the highlight of his life was meeting a Dutch girl in Paris in 1957 who later became his spouse of 53 years. Born in 1927 in Monroe, Wisconsin, he has lived in France for twelve years, including two as a post-graduate student, in England for nine, and in Argentina for seven year.

He has traveled widely in Eastern and Western Europe, the Middle East, Latin America, and the United States, often accompanied by his wife, Hettie. Since 1988, the two have resided in Lawrenceville, Georgia. Their sons, Julian and Lucas, live in the Atlanta area.

A longtime member and past VP of the Georgia Poetry Society, Campbell served as the organization’s contest chair for twelve years. He is also a member of the Southeastern Writers Association, the Georgia Writers Association, and the Utah State Poetry Society.

After serving four and a half years as a U.S. naval aviator, he earned a Bachelor of Arts degree in French from the University of Wisconsin in Madison. His knowledge of French transformed his life by helping him to land his first job overseas. It also enables him to garnish his witty poems with Français.

A 2005 Georgia Author-of-the-Year nominee, Campbell has published two books of his poems and his French-to-English translations: This Gardener’s Impossible Dream (2005) and Selected Fables and Poems in Translation (2010). Several hundred of his poems have also appeared in various other publications, anthologies, and on the Internet, and his work has been compared to that of Ogden Nash.

Early this year, his poem, “A Lawyer More Compassionate than Most,” was accepted for publication in the spring 2011 edition of the Israeli poetry and prose journal.

“A Witch in Time,” one of his pieces about a sorceress whose fear of heights prevents her from flying around town on her broomstick, is being pitched to Kennesaw State University in hopes that its music department may present it as a choral performance next Halloween.

As for words of wisdom to younger poets, Emery advises, “Poetry contests are much like lotteries. You have to keep resubmitting your work. If you win, good. If you don’t, just shrug it off. Judges have likes and dislikes. Your winning or not often depends on how the judges feel on any given day.”

Over the years, Campbell has acquired a versatile taste in poetry and expresses particular admiration for the work of slam poet, Marvin Ayodele Heath. He often quips that Emory University was named after him, but the University spelled his name wrong!

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