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From roses to rhymes: Vernette’s journey as a poet

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Major promoter: Gavin Smith, the founder of community arts organisation Chewstick, is a huge supporter of Vernette Dorian, a lifelong poet. Chewstick’s next Open-Mic Jam Session will be held on May 26, at the Blue Waters Anglers Club, on East Broadway, Pembroke, between 8pm and midnight (File photograph)

At the age of 9, Vernette Dorian started writing, and hasn’t stopped. Poetry is her speciality. She began in primary school with “roses are red, violets are blue….” and, without any coaching, in 1976 published a collection of her work, Words Add New Meaning to Life.

Today she prefers to perform live “because it is more effective”. Once a month she heads into Hamilton and gets onstage, grateful for the support she gets from Gavin Smith, founder and executive director of The Chewstick Foundation.

“I can be found at Chewstick, which I’ve been a part of for years. They’re down at the Blue Waters Anglers Club and Chewstick has an open mike. It’s the last Sunday of every month. So I perform there. The doors open at 7pm, [the show] starts at 8pm,” Ms Dorian said.

“But I'm open to anyone who wants to have entertainment.”

It’s because of that attitude that she found herself on the side of the Causeway last week, performing poetry at the invitation of Reverend Kimmie Mello.

“I have an interesting collection of props. Namely, a Bible, flower vase, telephone, boombox, cassette tapes and CDs, a newspaper, steering wheel, mirror, mailbox, and a surprise bottle of wisdom to which I invite the audience participation to dip in and pull out colourful papers, notes of quotes, jokes or requests to sing, dance, say a poem. The requests are endless and lots of fun,” Ms Dorian said.

“I like to relate to my audience. It's not just all about me standing up there. I'm a poet with a difference. I don't just stand there and say a poem. I like to put a little skit into it to get my message across.”

Get ready: Chewstick’s next Open-Mic Jam Session will be held on May 26, at the Blue Waters Anglers Club, on East Broadway, Pembroke, between 8pm and midnight (File photograph)

She has shared her poetry at churches, prisons, schools, rest homes and private functions.

In the 1990s she had a regular column in the now defunct Bermuda Times, Poetry Corner. She also had a weekly 15-minute radio show, Poetry Spot, with Marlene B. Landy and Fred Hassell.

For two summers she stood outside the JJ Outerbridge Building in the Botanical Gardens creating poems for passers-by.

“What inspires me is that one can express themselves in poetry. I have been inspired by people and food; I am easily inspired by nature. There are so many ways that I am inspired to write and I write because I put myself in someone else's shoes, thinking about what they may be going through,” she said.

“My writing to me is like a ministry and people don't expect that. It can touch. It can uplift. It can even make a person laugh. And some things I’ve written certainly can make a person cry – but I try to steer away from that.”

Six binders contain “quite a few hundred” of the pieces she has penned whenever the mood has hit.

“I could be anywhere. The other day I wrote a poem about the bus. I thought of the song Shake, Rattle and Roll and that's what I experienced on one of the buses. It was shaking and rattling and just about rolling along.”

Although there is always a pen in her handbag, Ms Dorian doesn’t travel with a notebook which sometimes makes capturing her poems a bit tricky.

“Sometimes by the time I get back home it's all twisted in a different way but I get back into the groove [with] deep thinking and I'm able to bring it back to memory – sometimes.”

Get ready: Chewstick’s next Open-Mic Jam Session will be held on May 26, at the Blue Waters Anglers Club, on East Broadway, Pembroke, between 8pm and midnight

Words Add New Meaning to Life now sits in the Bermuda Library. Feedback on its release nearly 50 years ago was positive, its author said.

“I have had quite a few people who said it was very touching. I went from door-to-door knocking, selling my little booklet. I went to the Adventist bookstore, I went to the Muslim bookstore that was open just across from Dellwood school in the Angle Street area. I went to the Bermuda Bookstore and they put some on sale and I haven't had to push it any more.”

The experience helped her better appreciate having a live audience.

“People can talk to me, I can talk to them, they are more touched by my presence. People keep telling me to write another book but unfortunately, there are some people who cannot read.

“So whatever I put in another book to touch them and uplift them, it would be a miss. I’ve done one, I'm satisfied with that,” she said.

“My surprise bottle with the colourful little slips of paper, it has such things on it as motivational thoughts. So when someone dips into that surprise bottle, they don't know what they're going to come up with. It might tell them to dance or sing; it might tell them to say a joke or impersonate someone. You don't know what you're gonna pick.”

Follow Chewstickon Facebook and@chewstickfoundationon Instagram. Chewstick’s next Open-Mic Jam Session at Blue Waters Anglers Club takes place on May 26. Doors open 7pm. Admission, $10

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Published May 16, 2024 at 8:00 am (Updated May 17, 2024 at 8:05 am)

From roses to rhymes: Vernette’s journey as a poet

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