Geographic Connection to Pennsylvania: Harrisburg, Dauphin County
Harrisburg's Jack Veasey wrote eight volumes of poetry, including The Dance That Begins And Begins: Selected Poems 1973-2013.
Jack Veasey was born in 1955 in Fishtown, Philadelphia. His working class upbringing greatly affected the subject matter of his poetry. He wrote about the working class and individuals alienated as a consequence of economic class, race, and sexual orientation. Veasey never received a degree, but took courses at several universities and studied with a number of poets. He was also a singer and songwriter and held positions as a journalist, editor, arts administrator, writing teacher, and public radio host. After spending much of his life in urban environments, Veasey lived in Hummelstown, Pennsylvania, with his partner, David Walker, for the last 20 or so years of his life. On July 15, 2016, Jack Veasey passed away and has since been remembered for the warmth and encouragement he imparted to other creatives and to those in his life.
John J. (Jack) Veasey was born in 1955 to Jack Veasey, a security guard, and Marie Veasey, a cleaning lady at the now defunct Schmidt’s Brewery. The family lived in Fishtown, a working-class neighborhood with a large Irish Catholic population along the Delaware River in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. Veasey’s blue-collar roots greatly influenced the subject matter of his poetry.
As a child, Veasey attended Catholic schools and graduated from Northeast Catholic High School. He took courses at The Pennsylvania State University and other colleges; however, he never received a degree. In Philadelphia, Veasey studied with a number of poets, including Etheridge Knight, Alexandra Grilikhes, and Ted Berrigan. His favorite poet was Sylvia Plath, and he was influenced by a number of poets he knew personally, while he always remained true to his own voice.
Much of Veasey’s poetry relates to the alienation he experienced as a gay youth and as an American citizen denied the right to have his relationship legally recognized. Poetry was a vehicle of expression for Veasey, but also a means of connecting with others who felt alienated for any reason, including race, economic class, and sexual orientation. In an article by PennLive writer Steve Marroni, Veasey's friend [Rick] Kearns said that he not only respected Veasey as a poet, but he respected him for his kindness, sincerity, and his willingness to help other poets, too.
David A. Warner of The Philadelphia City Paper gave an excellent description of Veasey’s own poetry when he said: “Jack Veasey’s poetry lets you know from the outset that the poor are the people he sings about, and that’s that. His strongest poems are spare, sympathetic portraits that reveal whole histories of loneliness in small details. These are deceptively simple, surprisingly resonant poems.”
Veasey’s poem “Quitting Time” was nominated for a Pushcart Prize and has a melodic quality, using the end of a working-class individual's shift to symbolize the dramatic release after an emotionally exhausting event, perhaps the closure of an intimate relationship or the death of a loved one - and ultimately reveals its necessity and importance to the overall process of healing: No matter how you grit your teeth/, the poem reads, And clench your fists, this thing called/ Quitting Time/ Will save your soul.
According to Veasey, he “didn’t decide to become a public poet, it chose [him], as did [his] other great love, singing.” He wrote and recorded a dozen songs for his CD, Build a Fire, among other songs. And he sang first tenor in choral groups, including the Gay Men’s Chorus of Harrisburg. His other careers included journalism, editorial work, arts administration, teaching writing, and serving as a public radio host in Central Pennsylvania. Veasey also co-created Paper Sword with Kearns, a group that hosted poetry readings in Harrisburg.
Following Veasey’s initial publication in Painted Bride Quarterly, he wrote eight books of poetry. His poem “Three Mile Island Siren” was included in Common Wealth: Contemporary Poets on Pennsylvania, and his other work was included in the anthology, Sweet Jesus: Poems about the Ultimate Icon. Two plays he produced were shown in Philadelphia and Lancaster, and as a journalist, Veasey wrote hundreds of articles and conducted interviews with a number of well-known individuals including David Lynch, Laurie Anderson, George Carlin, and Joan Baez.
Veasey described his experience of being outside of mainstream American culture as “living amid the dangers and pressures of an urban environment,” while transitioning to “small-town living.” Other subjects Veasey explored were the different kinds of relationships experienced throughout lives and being the victim of child abuse. He once said the goal of his writing was to be “[the recognition of] our common humanity.” Poet Christopher Bursk described Veasey as, “A brave and authentic poet.”
On July 15, 2016, Jack Veasey of Hummelstown passed away at the age of 60 in the M.S. Hershey Medical Center in Harrisburg, Pennslyvania. He is survived by his partner of 38 years, David Walker. According to Marronni, poets - old friends and young writers [Veasey] inspired - have been writing to Walker, reflecting on his generous nature, his encouragement and his support.
No Time for Miracles. Bar Harbor: Yardbird Books, 1989.
Quitting Time. Harrisburg: Warm Spring Press, 1991.
The Moon in the Nest. New York: Crosstown Books, 2003
Half-Life. Reading: Red Pagoda Press, 2005.
The Sonnets. Small Hours Press, 2007.
5-7-5. Small Hours Press, 2007.
Shapely: Selected Formal Poems. Providence: The Poet's Press, 2013.
The Dance That Begins And Begins: Selected Poems 1973-2013. Providence: The Poet's Press, 2015.
Duhamel, Denise and Nick Carbo. Sweet Jesus: Poems about the Ultimate Icon. Los Angeles, CA: Anthology Press, 2003.
Email Interview with Alan Jalowitz. 10 November 2005.