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 has applied that same directness to chronicling the struggles of gay people. His poems and nonfiction have 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. Jack Veasey died suddenly in July, 2016, leaving this as his next-to-last poetry collection. His final book will be published by The Poet's Press in Spring 2017.