Friday, July 15, 2016

Jack Died Today

Just like that, after just about 38 years, he's gone.  I don't remember the exact words, but Margaret "Hot Lips" Hoolihan said something on M*A*S*H about death.  "It never ceases to amaze me.  You're alive, you're dead, and that's it."

Jack Veasey was born April 4, 1955 and lived most of his early years in the Fishtown section of Philadelphia.  He was abused by his parents and frequently had nightmares about them, especially his mother.  He frequently lived with his grandmother.  She sang around the house, which he picked up and continued to do all his life.  He enjoyed reading poetry and was encouraged by friends to try to write it.  He did...exceptionally well.  I've long thought of him as the most internationally-ignored published contemporary poet.  And he was published, and not by vanity presses.  But late 20th and early 21st century poets are seen as frills and extras.

He sang.  His poetry often sang, but he audibly sang, songs that could make you laugh or remember or cry or tap your toes and wonder why he couldn't get gigs.  He turned from a very disciplined approach to free verse (sounds ironic, but I suspect poets know what I mean) to very formalized work, especially the sonnet.  He'd finally found his form.  And as strict as the forms of poetry was how free he was with his singing.

He was passionate about his poetry.  I'd hear other poets talk about their poetry and he would talk about his and poetry in general as the art it is.  Writing is putting words together, but words count even more in poetry.  The right word is needed in writing a sentence; poetry needs the precise word, accentuation, place, beat.  It was second nature to him.

Jack taught poetry classes like a preacher spreading the gospel and also as the best teacher anyone ever had.  He could always find something good about the most dunderheaded doggerel, but when someone had a breakthrough, he sang their praises and knew exactly what to say.

He never forgot, something both fortunate and unfortunate.  He never forgot someone who was kind to him or gave him a break.  He also never forgot a slight, whether real or imagined.  While I'm not big on "forgive and forget," I do believe in letting bygones be bygones and he couldn't.  Real or perceived, he was hurt and he never forgot or forgave.

He knew how to make me laugh.  He knew how to make me feel better.  He was among the world's greatest nurses.  Any of his friends would tell you about his loyalty.  He was an artist who needed support, help, opportunities, and love.  I did my best with all of that and never felt as if I did enough.  I hope I did.  He certainly deserved it.

Jack Veasey.  Dead at the age of 61.  He never got what he wanted most of all, to have his talents read and heard by the masses who would understand him.  He was read and heard by the regional masses, however, and he enjoyed that a lot.

He wrote innumerable poems, but he wrote this one for me in 1993:

On Living Together

for Dave

Now that I know how you live;
now that I have heard your stomach grumbling;
now that I've endured your silences;
now that I have seen your hair
before you've seen the mirror in the morning,
sipped your breath before the toothbrush touched your mouth;
now that you've seen me scream
at my frustrations, hurling tantrums
at the walls we share, within which
my worst face is often witnessed;
now that you know how I live;
now that you have heard my stomach grumbling,
and endured my silences;
now that we assume, no matter what, we will go on through any future;
now I know this is love, this gritty bond
so much more real than what I'd wanted,
not too clean
or too convenient.
Now I know
what I was waiting for.
(c) 1993 Jack Veasey

Goodbye, Mr. Woof.  We showed 'em.  You showed 'em.  You showed all of us.  I love you.