PENNSYLVANIA, LYRIC AND GOTHIC...
Jack Veasey (1955-2016) was a Philadelphia native who lived in Hummelstown, PA for almost 30 years. He was the author of eleven previous published collections of poetry, most recently The Sonnets and 5-7-5 (both from Small Hours Press, 2007); and two recent Poet's Press titles, Shapely: Selected Formal Poems (2013), and The Dance That Begins and Begins: Selected Poems 1973-2013 (2015).
His poems also appeared in many periodicals including Christopher Street, The Pittsburgh Quarterly, Assaracus, Harbinger: A Journal of Social Ecology, The Philadelphia Daily News, The Painted Bride Quarterly, Fledgling Rag, Oxalis, The Blue Guitar, Bone and Flesh, Zone: A Feminist Journal for Women and Men, Film Library Quarterly (Museum of Modern Art, NYC), Experimental Forest, Tabula Rasa, Wild Onions, Mouth of the Dragon, Asphodel, Insight, The Irish Edition, The Harrisburg Patriot-News, The Harrisburg Review, The Princeton Spectrum, The Little Word Machine (UK), and The Body Politic (Canada), among others. His poems were also in a number of anthologies, including Common Wealth: Contemporary Poets On Pennsylvania (Penn State University Press), Sweet Jesus: Poems About The Ultimate Icon (Anthology Press, Los Angeles), and A Loving Testimony: Remembering Loved Ones Lost To AIDS (The Crossing Press, Freedom, CA).
His plays have been produced by Theater Center Philadelphia and Theater of the Seventh Sister (Lancaster, PA). He hosted literary radio programs for WITF FM in Harrisburg and WXPN FM in Philadelphia. He was awarded a Fellowship from the PA Council on The Arts and was a two-time honoree of The PA Center for the Book’s PENNBOOK celebration. For many years he hosted poetry readings in the Harrisburg area at The Art Association of Harrisburg’s Paper Sword series and at Encore Books and Music, Borders Books and Music, and Open Stage of Harrisburg, and also taught poetry writing courses at Harrisburg Area Community College Community Education Center, Martin Memorial Library in York, and for the Dauphin County Library System. He was a member of Harrisburg’s Notorious (Almost) Uptown Poetry Cartel.
Veasey spent the seventies and eighties working as a journalist for such publications as The Philadelphia Inquirer, Philadelphia Magazine, Pennsylvania Magazine, APPRISE, The Philadelphia City Paper, and The Cherry Hill Courier Post, and editing a number of periodicals in Philadelphia and New York, including The South Street Star, The Philadelphia Gay News, and FirstHand Magazine. His articles for the Philadelphia Gay News won two awards from the national Lesbian and Gay Press Association. He wrote an article on Walt Whitman’s relationship with his longtime companion Peter Doyle that was syndicated to 40 periodicals nationwide by the Gay History Project, followed by another article about Whitman’s involvement in the United States Civil War.
A singer as well as a poet, Veasey released one CD album of original songs, “Build A Fire,” as lead singer of the folk-rock duo Open Book. In 2010, Veasey released a CD single of another original song, “Whether or Not the World Knows.” He sang second tenor with the Harrisburg Gay Men’s Chorus. He lived with his partner in life, David Walker, since 1978. He has left one additional book manuscript with The Poet's Press, to be published in early 2017.
From The Moon in the Nest (Crosstown Books, 2002)
Once, my mother burned my hands
on the gas stove.
I had been "bad";
I don't remember how.
What I remember
is the odor of flesh burning,
surely not familiar
to most five year olds.
what scars you could see —
there is no need to remember.
watching from outside my body,
as if this were on TV.
I do not remember
the pain — or, at least,
not the part
that was physical.
I do not remember
the role played by Love
in this picture.
I own a house where I don't feel at home,
left to me by a relative now dead,
where mouths would rarely kiss but often foam,
and all seemed black and white when we saw red;
where tenderness would always have its price;
resentment would go hand in hand with love;
and each mistake we made would turn to ice,
reminding us no good was good enough;
with walls not just around, but in between;
with windows curtained off against the sun;
yet every tiny nuance would be seen,
and noted like one more debt left undone.
I am the king there now; tight is my crown.
If not for neighbors, I would burn it down.
STARING DOWN ASH WEDNESDAY
No ashes on my forehead now;
not this year, and not
any year again
no more penance,
I'be grown too close to the earth
to buy that notion.
All of life is lent,
and not for long.
I have watched loved ones
like blurry riders on a carousel
that only turns away,
no turning back
I have watched this tree
in which my soul is sealed
grow gnarled, and lose
leaf after leaf,
in this short year
called life, which only has
watched the whole great landscape
inching toward oblivion
with shrinking dignity,
and while I know
that there is something more
I know, too, now
that this this
is the only this there is,
and this this
will be ashes
soon enough —
so let the Mardi Gras go on and on!
You show me the covered bridge where you want me to scatter your
ashes. The spot is remote and rural, green and lush.
The bridge is particularly old. We can see the flowing water
underneath our feet through gaps between the creaking boards.
You tell me that Nancy Culp, the actress, has her ashes scattered
here. I guess I should wonder why you would want
to spend etermity with Miss Hathaway from The BEverly Hillbillies. But
all I can think of is that this place is where I'll one day say my final
goodbye to you. Grief floods me suddenly. I start to cry.
You don't respond. You don't rush to comfort me with
caresses as you usually do when I weep. You walk on the groaning
boards and gesture at your surroundings as you explain them: the age
of that bridge, and its role in local history, the efforts to preserve it. You tell
me that vehicles are no longer allowed to cross it, only people on foot.
I guess I should be angry with you for ignoring my feelings, but I'm too
busy trying to memorize you, your every expression, word, movement,
tone of voice.
All your instructions are written down, I hear you say, in
an envelope on the shelf under the wooden table next to your old easy
chair. But now it is my turn to not listen, to
focus instead only on what floats through my mind, all at once more
vivid than this moment:
the gritty feel of ashes slipping through my fingers.
Poems from Handful of Hair, Jack Veasey's first chapbook, published by The Poet's Press/Grim Reaper Books in 1975:
NOTE FOR THE TEACHER
when i was nine
i threw rocks,
had dreams, had
you were forty,
you were the reason i behaved so badly.
the cardboard boxes
only to hide me from you.
my plastic spacemen gunned for you
inside their bag.
you stood in the daytime pointing;
your fingers sprouted from the fields
i dreamed through, running,
tangled in that poison grass.
was the sky, a balckboard screaming
in my handwriting a hundred times,
I MUST NOT ACT LIKE AN ANIMAL.
i didn't act;
you trained me.
the absence of your handprint dangled
bonelike near my face.
i sniffed, i sniffed; i followed;
you will never know the things i learned.
your screams broke those windows
heat from slaps left your face red.
forty was your age;
nine was mine;
students eventually will outlive their
that burning house i drew in class
in your language,
means i tear chunks from you like some half-
in my language,
means i tear them from myself.
we talk all night.
Other Poems —
From The Captain Of The Bats
We bats are quite amused
that you think we’re
the blind ones. We mock
how you “look” at life —
hear our high chatter?
Even darkness has its anthems;
even distant things
are closer than you think
for those of us who live — yes, luckily —
at this velocity.
with our dead eyes,
and bony wings.
We love the way you doze all night,
then slave all day at desks.
We love the way you duck
behind, or underneath, your arms
when we play pest.
We dance now
through the darkroom sky:
riding on the moonlight,
left from your nightmares.
We hear you there,
you grounded ones
still stumbling on each other,
searching one another’s
eyes, looking for something
Your dog is tired of steak.
He lies awake
in the canopied
He cannot sleep;
he is thinking
of his little
a whole building
just for him.
is the only thing
and your throat.
All poems on this page Copyright © by Jack Veasey. All Rights Reserved.
To buy this poet's books...
JACK VEASEY. SHAPELY: SELECTED FORMAL POEMS.
Jack Veasey (1955-2016) was a provocative voice in modern American poetry since his teens. He started giving readings and publishing his poems in Philadelphia, New York, and Boston in the early 1970s. Since then he has published ten collections of poems. He read the title poem from his best-known book, Quitting Time (Warm Spring Press) on a segment of NPR's “All Things Considered” originating from Southwest Missouri State University. The poem, a plain-spoken free verse monologue about the moment one quits a demeaning job, remained his signature poem and established his reputation as chronicler of urban working class life. As Jim Ruth, venerable art critic in Veasey’s adopted region of central PA, put it in the Lancaster Sunday News, “Jack Veasey’s poems pack the appeal — and sting — of universality. Veasey speaks with the clarity and directness of an Everyman. . . . a passionate poet of the people.” Mike Gunderloy, in the national small press review FactSheet Five, described his poems as “blunt, cutting narratives that make you wonder how we can possibly accept things as they are.”
Veasey applied that same directness to chronicling the struggles of gay people. His poems and nonfiction appeared in many major gay periodicals and anthologies, and he served as editor of The Philadelphia Gay News and FirstHand: Experiences for Loving Men. His articles for The Philadelphia Gay News won that publication two awards from the National Lesbian and Gay Press Association. He also wrote about gay issues for The Philadelphia Inquirer, and his articles about Walt Whitman’s gay life have been nationally syndicated by the Gay History Project.
This eleventh collection spotlights a lesser-known aspect of his work. In the early 1980s Veasey began to write sonnets and other poems in fixed forms. To his surprise, it proved ideal for exploring a far greater range of subjects; some that had been “too big to tackle” — or even to face. “It pulled things out of me,” he said, “Sometimes I’d articulate something in a form and then realize, 'My God, I never knew I saw it that way.' Forms are a great way to distract your conscious mind from censoring your content.”
Shapely: Selected Formal Poems gathers the best of these revelatory poems from three decades into a powerful, vivid, insightful, and masterfully crafted collection. The substantial section of sonnets at the book’s heart is especially impressive and varied. Some are hilarious, some dark and disturbing, some poignant and touching: all have a clarity and striking musicality not found much in contemporary poetry.
ISBN 0-922558-73-6. Published May 2013. 6x9” paperback, 132 pages. $12.95.
JACK VEASEY. THE DANCE THAT BEGINS AND BEGINS
Pennsylvania poet Jack Veasey (1955-2016) has here selected from four decades of his writing, an intense and affecting summation of his poetry so far. Complementing his 2013 collection of more formal poems, this wide-ranging volume thrusts the reader into the inherent sense that every poet has, from childhood, of "not being like the others." As a gay poet and journalist living through the tumultuous decades of gay liberation and beyond, Veasey shows how, in so many ways, understanding is not yet won. Yet there are many small triumphs in the gorgeous language and the poems' arrived-at wisdom. Ian Young writes: "The publication of The Dance That Begins and Begins, Jack Veasey's twelfth book, should signal his recognition as one of America's best poets. Veasey never stands apart to poeticize, but is walways right there in the thick of things, vulnerable, compassionate, and strong. Adept, accessible, utterly authentic, these poems have heart, soul, moral authority, and the quiet assurance of a major poet at the height of his powers."
A 2010 nominee for a Pushcart Prize, Jack Veasey was a Philadelphia native who lived in Hummelstown, PA for over 20 years. He was the author of eleven previous published collections of poetry, most recently Shapely: Selected Formal Poems (2013). His poems have also appeared in many periodicals including Christopher Street, The Pittsburgh Quarterly, Assaracus, Harbinger: A Journal of Social Ecology, The Philadelphia Daily News, The Painted Bride Quarterly, Fledgling Rag, Oxalis, The Blue Guitar, Bone and Flesh, Zone: A Feminist Journal for Women and Men, Film Library Quarterly (Museum of Modern Art, NYC), Experimental Forest, Tabula Rasa, Wild Onions, Mouth of the Dragon, Asphodel, Insight, The Irish Edition, The Harrisburg Patriot-News, The Harrisburg Review, The Princeton Spectrum, The Little Word Machine (U.K.), and The Body Politic (Canada), among others. His poems have also appeared in a number of anthologies. Veasey spent the seventies and eighties working as a journalist for such publications as The Philadelphia Inquirer, Philadelphia Magazine, Pennsylvania Magazine, APPRISE, The Philadelphia City Paper, and The Cherry Hill Courier Post, and editing a number of periodicals in Philadelphia and New York, including The South St. Star, The Philadelphia Gay News, and FirstHand Magazine. His articles for the Philadelphia Gay News won two awards from the national Lesbian and Gay Press Association. His first poetry chapbook, Handful of Hair, was published by The Poet's Press in 1975. Veasey left a final manuscript of poems with The Poet's Press, which will be published in Spring 2017.
ISBN 0-92255878-7. The 211th publication of The Poet's Press. 6x9” paperback, 226 pages. $14.95. To order from Amazon, CLICK BELOW.
To download and read Jack Veasey's 1975 Poet's Press/ Grim Reaper chapbook, Handful of Hair, CLICK HERE.