I have the pleasure, the absolute delirious delight, to introduce this first issue of Still Vexed. The first time Still Vexed, was uttered, it was literarily, in our direction and in our jest. Our Bermoothes, so angry, strange, and unwieldy.
In this issue, we have the most strange, unwieldy, and at times angry contributions appearing. In short - tempestuous. And what the highly honorable Barbadian poet Kamau Brathwaite identified as, speech that evaded an imposed structure, exclaiming, “The hurricane does not roar in pentameter.”
Here, our Bermudianess is put to the table, examined, questioned, and at times shouted. And while we sought to keep this issue from the confines of any sort of theme, our contributors all submitted pieces that exhibited an innate state of home. As if, rendering from our fingertips was impossible to disconnect from.
Bermudians make Bermudian art.
And here we exist, in the plenty. If not all dispersed to some degree and insular to some other degree, but still here.
I happened upon a 20th-century piece of amusement while curating this issue. An American artist wrote an article in 1918, emphasizing Bermuda’s natural beauty, and our charming “native bungalows.” He sends a charge out to other American artists and writers to, “…colonize [Bermuda], from our best society, our literary men and women, our artists, our actors, our professors, scientists, and ministers, our skilled mechanics, and day-laborers.” As if, Bermuda did not already have and hold the quality for such a community.
As if our home were for sale - such as it seems to be, our culture, commodified, our accent, repeated, printed on belts and hats and our cultural icons, consistently pimped out as mascots rather than folkloric holders of tradition, of monument and the sacred.
Bermuda has been written about as if there were no Bermudians to write about it. We have been colonized and re-colonized in greedy hands, eyes, and those who see fit to only profit from our agreeable views.
When in fact, this island is a home of its own art and artists. One that constantly appears as a conspiring muse and hindrance to that very art. We leave home, consult home and return home. Bermuda always being in the veins, if even not in the forefront. Home being a thing we revolve around in our work - because who better to confront it than us?
In this issue, we have Bermudian voices, that work within the boundaries of their relative homes. How it shows up in their art, how it informs the very muscle, how it even reminds us of our strange and evolving identities.
Because the revolutions of home are just that, revolving, we strain under the eaves of memory, still hold that bruise, that cut, that improperly healed fracture. We are gathered of the pieces, an assemblage of a quickly tarped roof in a storm’s wake, or a middle of the street ramp of rotting wood and concrete block able to be disassembled at a moment for coming traffic. We come back here even when we forget to.
We are a collective howl, us Bermudians of art. We are a ruckus - when Jourdain and Strachey wrote their 17th-century pamphlets about us - they were astonished, bewildered, taken aback at the immensity of sound that Bermuda was. How piercing and uncomfortable and blood curdling the screech.
We are descendants of strange beasts. Found nowhere else but here. Jutted out in the Atlantic, at the far reaches of a torrential alley of current and storm.
In these pages you’ll find, what I hope is akin to turning your key in the door and walking into the smell of banana bread, or cassava pie, or if, you’re extra lucky, shark hash & Johnny bread.
I hope it’s like walking into a place, you already know. With a shark oil hanging readily, on the wall.
And in that breath,
"A Bit of Native Architecture"
Lawren, Joseph. “To Live in Bermuda.” The Art World, vol. 3, no. 6, 1918, p. 534.
The captain has just announced we’re making our gradual descent for landing. As the plane sifts through the clouds, shadow and light move in the sky. The Sargasso Sea is still blue. The underwater reefs still illuminate through. I have butterflies, but I’m not nervous. There’s something about this view that sets it aside from every other landing. It’s familiar but consistently extraordinary. Closer now, as we fly over land, the panorama of the island transcends beyond my sight. The east end emerges and I quickly see the Swing Bridge followed by cars cruising along Kindley Field before we float onto the runway. The wheels meet the tarmac, and relief begins to set in.
January 2021 would have marked almost nine years since I haven’t lived in Bermuda. In 2011 I hastily left the island. A month in London, and still crashing in a friend’s spare bedroom - I wanted to stay in the big city. I had a feeling about London. Its spirit, alive and audacious. Three years and a university degree later, that feeling was unchanged. I was in love with the pace, the anonymity, and the possibilities. I was going to make home thousands of miles away from the one I knew. I stayed for an additional four years and came back to Bermuda at the end of 2017. But only for a year. This move was not meant to be permanent because London still had my heart. Sure enough, 12 months later I was back in the city where I felt I belonged.
The usual first thought of home is related to the physical. Something that is lived in and experienced. The place that we are from. The house we grew up in or the dwelling where sacred memories are shared and understood only by the people there. The traditional meaning of home is widely known as a domestic habitat and physiological connection – the place that is ours.
Architect and psychologist Clare Cooper suggested that people see the home as a place to express themselves. Cooper argued that “the house nicely reflects how man sees himself,” by the tangible objects that make up space inside the home. From the arrangement of furniture, paint on the walls, and photos on the dressers, these things become an extension of ourselves, a self-definition. We confidently show our self-image here because it is a safe space. Can the same be said when we look at the home, not as a house we abide in, but as the country we reside or grew up in. Born and raised in the parish of Pembroke, Bermuda is my home.
The physical features are easy on the eyes—twenty-one square miles of an oasis. The tourism adverts show vibrant scenery: the outsider looking in sees crystal blue water, beaches with pale pink sand, and happy people. The physicality is easy to describe, and the people, for the most-part, are easy-going. At my core, I love being from Bermuda, and so do most Bermudians. I would not replace growing up here with anywhere else. The memories many of us have here are sacred. When we think about what is special about Bermuda, it’s a lot more that meets the eye.
The little things like mandatory “good mawnins,” summertime cliff jumping off anywhere high enough above water, May 24th in the hottest gansie, our one-of-a-kind vernacular, rum swizzle. If home as a place is who we are, then what about here makes you, you? For creatives, the uniqueness of our upbringing follows us. There is an attachment to the island’s purity that influences who we are. Simultaneously, it's not a rigid attachment as specific standards do not define the psychology of Bermudian artists, photographers, writers, and singers. Although our authentic experience here influences our work, there are aspects about this place we call home that do not mirror ourselves.
Being at home is not the same as feeling at home. The former is a familiar that we do not actively acknowledge – it’s normal. Home as a feeling is to be safe, at peace and accepted. When we do not get this, it feels like erasure and exclusion. Can we belong to a place that does not develop, support or sadly rejects us?
Creatives on the island face this conflict of openly expressing themselves through art. It’s not that they are not creating - at times the small place ideology (artfully rendered in Jamaica Kincaid’s book of the same title) and the lack of resources are a hindrance. Bermuda is viewed as a paradise and tax haven. Thus, the country’s biggest industries are Tourism and International Business. As these are integral contributors to the economy, the majority of the island’s resources go towards these industries. Students are encouraged to seek professions in business, insurance, hospitality, or management. These are suitable careers, and obviously, Bermuda needs Bermudians in them. Vocationally, The Artist, is a less suitable career.
This disconnect causes many Bermudian creators to seek elsewhere to (re)discover home by creating it. We remake home through our actions, the people we're surrounded by, and the collective communities we make. The Chewstick Foundation built a home through opportunity and inclusion. Beginning in 2003 and deeply rooted in arts and culture, Chewstick was more than just a creative hub. It was a progressive movement, the epicentre for expression, learning, and discourse. Carlita Lodge, (Programme Manager at the Department of Cultural Affairs) praises Chewstick for how the space helped her grow as a creative, “It isn't always about meeting people that do the same thing as you, but meeting people that challenge you to grow, to appreciate a new way of thinking, and to talk about the realities of creating art while in Bermuda.”
I went to a couple of their open mic nights years ago, but was too timid back then to sign up for a programme or one of their retreats - I wish I did. From the outside looking in, I saw nurturing for the introverted writer, a voice for the lonely poet, or cautious singer. I know Chewstick still exists, however not at the same capacity in the past. I hope that their stalwarts continue to meet to enlighten and influence each other. I hope we see Chewstick host events and creative initiatives in the future. I hope the government sees the importance of art foundations like Chewstick or others to come. Private sector investment is all good, but the public sector's support is needed to solidify art communities' longevity on the island. Art is essential to community fortitude. It’s a powerful force of healing, unity, and rehabilitation. Government’s aid ensures accessibility and resources for creatives to have a welcoming sense of place.
My little sister is interested in film and screenwriting. When I google “Screenwriting in Bermuda,” the first result that comes up is for a screenwriting workshop from 2015. The next one is a Royal Gazette article about a three-week course held by a Bermudian screenwriter - this was in 2016. Bermuda International Film Festival has a couple of education initiatives; one is a filmmakers workshop fall mid-term break. The Department of Community and Cultural Affairs hosts art programmes, one is their annual Writer in Residence programme where students are taught by an award-winning writer of a specific genre. While these kinds of initiatives are a step in the right direction, fostering communities cannot be one-off events that happen once a year.
Replace ‘screenwriting’ with photography, videography, songwriting, music production, or poetry - will I get the same results? Community is lacking for Bermudian creatives, a haven where we can be mentored, sustained and challenged, the home for us to be our true selves. This looks like after-school programmes or extracurriculars for students. It is a centre for like-minded people of various ages to have workshops, masterclasses, and live events that promote development and identity.
There seems to be an awakening of Bermudian musicians at the moment. Artists like Da’Khari Love, Sinead the Flower, Buzby and Derek G., are bringing a quality mastering of craft. I wouldn’t be surprised if they have their own hub supporting and working with each other. The quality of their work is evidence of collaboration and support. It’s refreshing to see how these artists are distributing their own resources amongst their peers. Obviously financial backing will be an asset, however having somewhere to go is critical - the space's importance depends on the feeling and these artists show what can be done when we come together.
The beauty of art is how it unites. It's not ironic that it is mostly the artists or community workers who take action in building a home for themselves. Yet I often wonder about what our public institution can do to make a difference. The Department of Community and Cultural Affairs has recently set up a creative resource www.creatives.bm, Ms. Lodge tells, “Whether it is for creatives to connect or for someone trying to hire, it exists as a place to browse all the very talented people that exist on-island.” I hope this helps to facilitate more artists coming together and thriving from being at home in their element.
In Bermuda, this home community could be a regular jam session with fellow peers coming together to meet new people and share their work or projects they're working on. As a neutral space where feedback is given, where the next person asks questions that challenge you and offer a new perspective. Or, in the vein of MFA Writing Workshops, something as simple a weekly creative hour where everyone brings something they’ve been working on. Creating in the midst of others.
If we do not find home in Bermuda, we leave the nest entirely and choose to live beyond the parameters of what we know. And we’re intentional about it; going means being specific about the city, the neighbourhood, and the surrounding people. I chose to move to London because it has all the elements of a thriving creative capital. I knew the diversity there meant it would offer a range of concepts, opinions, and experience. I wanted to be inspired and provoked.
It took me about two years to make a home in London. The first years I spent learning myself in the city. I’d explore different boroughs, wander in museums, and go to live shows or open mic nights alone. Immersing in the unknown pushed me to find places that would inspire perspective. Although I was alone, I didn’t feel lonely; I felt invigorated. My community formed organically, and in my last year of university, I lived with two people with whom I felt most connected. I remember being adamant about us all living together, and I’m glad I was because I learned a lot from them. A few years later my best friend would start law school in London. It was also that year when I really saw myself as a writer.
I’ve restarted a lot in London, moved houses yearly, lived with other people, lived with friends, lived on my own. The physical place was not as important to me as the sentiment was. I knew I could continue building a home through people, connection, and encouragement. The saying 'home is where the heart is,' literally means it is wherever we are - but we can be in many places and still not be at home. I'm permissive in using this phrase.London had my heart because it stirred me as a writer, I loved the city for that. A lot of my memories are led there because I connect to a time in my life where I was impulsive, curious, and fearless. I felt at home in London because it added to my sense of identity.
A nomad rejects the traditional definition of home. Bermudian creatives are nomads in the sense that we are on a constant search for the ‘communities within communities.’ The homes within a home.
When proposed with the question “Where is home for you?” The answer is not quite straightforward. It requires reflection on how the self is affected by surroundings. I say Bermuda is home for the reason I feel emotional when getting off of the airplane after living away for so long. It’s more than the country where I’m from. It’s where I love the sun but hate the humidity, where I wake up to the sound of the ‘kiss-ka-dee’ chirping and fall asleep to tree frogs whistling. Where manners are mandatory, or holidays are culturally holy and also a fashion show, where social media is not needed for news to travel fast, or where we all ‘know dat bie.’
I’m fortunate to have a place to return to. I can always come back to Bermuda and my intention is to be here for the foreseeable future. Yet I wonder about my need for a permanent base and why I come back here. Is it the familiarity or consistency of the building? The reinforcement that the home will always be here, even if I’m not.
Cooper, Clare.1974. The House as Symbol of the Self. Berkeley, CA: University of California.
Unpainted concrete walls and low-hanging power lines separate quaint, tightly situated homes. The noise of v-50s racing in front of my house til late in the evening was a daily occurrence. Younger boys would ride around on small pedal bikes, popping wheelies everywhere, or playing one-bounce in the middle of the road. At Mrs. Vanderpool’s house, the pink one on the corner, older men would drink and smoke weed while broadcasting dancehall over 3 foot woofer speakers.
Cedar Hill was a place where you could still borrow a cup of sugar from your neighbor. Bikes being stolen from backyards were the crimes of the day. But on July 10th 1988, the neighborhood forever changed.
Florita Jackson, 29, and her two daughters, Alicka, 8, and Ayeisha, 4, were murdered by her boyfriend in a residence next to Purvis Primary School.
A girl who lived across the street heard the screams and called the police. He slit the throats of all three females. He murdered their mother first. Small bloody handprints were found inside the residence from her daughters dragging their blood-soaked hands down a wall. The girls were trying to flee.
I found Mandy-Suzanne Wong in that two-decades-or-so-old method of amateurish, un-peer reviewed, research: Google. I was looking for contemporary Bermudian writers in print. Near the end of crafting a syllabus on Bermudian Literature, I was missing a current text - that I didn’t have to break an arm and leg trying to hunt down on Abebooks. The fact that I was teaching a literary tradition, (of which I am a part of and haplessly indebted to) whose texts are largely out of print, made the business of teaching almost inefficacious. And then I happened upon Mandy, with whom, at first, I was astonished that there existed an actuality of which her literary existence evaded me. That there was a Bermudian writer, I didn’t know.
We met twice - via the lens of Zoom, which has become our method of social interaction. We talked about identity, home-ness, and moving. There were stretches of conversation that left their initial thought trail and went down - what seemed like, endless rabbit holes. In excavating the ideology of home, we circled the changing form that is Bermudianess. What does it mean to be Bermudian - in the sense of tribe, home, community, what does it mean in the personal?
Mandy was born in Bermuda with Chinese/Jamaican heritage. She learned to love books and classical music before she was 2. Getting a first degree in Music Performance and a career as a multi-disciplinary writer. When she speaks of her identity she does so compassionately, as if it’s a dear friend she comforts. Giving way to express the othering that being Bermudian, but looking, quite unlike any other Bermudian around - especially in the late 90s when she was skipping through Primary school. There isn’t much mystery to the reflex of othering in Bermuda. The country has had a bristled relationship with the demographic makeup since the island was colonized. And - it should be said - sought to colonize other Caribbean islands.* A sum of islands that we in turn, culturally and autocratically distanced ourselves from - until it served us best (shoutout to dancehall, reggae, and Bermuda Carnival).
For Mandy, growing up in Bermuda as a child of Asian likeness meant to be faced with her identity as seen through everyone else’s eyes. She speaks of a recital she performed in as a youth, that was written up in the newspaper, identifying her as a child who emigrated to Bermuda with her family. Mandy Wong came to Bermuda, not Mandy Wong, born in Bermuda. The outright stripping of the coveted birthright was enraging. Which leads to the crux point. What exactly does it mean to be Bermudian? And for Mandy-Suzanne Wong, what does it mean to be a Bermudian writer?
She left the island - like many of us do - to find home elsewhere. Between the ages of 15 and 20 years old she lived out of a suitcase in boarding school, taking out what she needed as she went along. Never really unpacking so that at a moment’s notice, she could go back home. The America that she expected to be a melting pot, where she would blend, was all but. She didn’t fit in with the Chinese people in University because they felt she was too dark. Then, she was a jazz musician for a while, but turned heads and roused a distrust from African Americans who did not understand her place in their music.** In 2001, she was again, even in a space that felt like hers, an other.
So she came back, like many of us do, and in the space of comfort tried to find home. When I asked her, more pressingly, about how she navigates her identity, as a Bermudian, and within the personal, she responded, “With great difficulty.” Noting that she had to grow up, before realizing how much of an outsider [she] was. It was here, in the midst of her outlier, that she regained a wielding of her self.
The book that I eventually added to my syllabus was her first novel, Drafts of a Suicide Note. Here, her character Kenji existed consistently in some form of habitat. Mandy remarked that she put Kenji, “...in his apartment and that’s where he stayed. For Kenji, every space is a hiding place.” Mandy used Kenji and his remarkable adaptation to the spatial imaginary as a way in which to engage with her own Bermudianess. Kenji, of Bermudian and Japanese heritage, exists in a world of Bermudian things, Bermudian customs, and most conspicuously, Bermudian dialect.
Her forthcoming title with Graywolf Press is a work of fiction, with six narrators. She cites Dostoevsky’s, Crime & Punishment, Marlon James,’ A Brief History of Seven Killings, and Terry Pratchet as a literary lineage that the manuscript invariably springs from. A literary family tree that is almost confounding, and that she was sure would hate each other in real life. But therein lies the intricacy of being, we come from something, if even mixed, misread, or misunderstood.
Mandy-Suzanne Wong is an interesting Bermudian character. She writes for eight hours a day, she can play strange, nonsensical experimental music. She is often mistaken for a foreigner when she reaches a cashier’s desk and then is the recipient of a bemused face when that same cashier hears the intonation of Bermudian inflection. She uses archaic Bermudian slang, (she said words that I all but forgot at least twice during our calls). She loves the written word and studies it, pulls it apart, translates it consults, re-consults, respects and deifies it dutifully. She immerses in the various houses of herself, trying new keys, building new wings, and at times, even showing identification of her own rights to ownership. She exists in the temporal space of what Gaston Bachelard highlights as of utmost importance; the future. With which he elucidates as being, “better built, lighter and larger than all the houses of the past.”*** Bachelard further expounds that, “Maybe it is a good thing for us to keep a few dreams of a house that we shall live in later, always later….It is better to live in a state of impermanence than in one of finality.”
With Mandy we see her personal arm extend with her first protagonist Kenji. How they both lived out of suitcases of sorts, both Bermudian and somehow, to someone, not. Both living in and out of their own built homes. Ever existing in a state of impermanence, with ready tools to build the next home.
Mandy lives now in Bermuda, her from and her to. If there is any finality to be observed, it’s in the hope that she habitually harvests. To be here, on this island, means already to be a strange thing. An island of mystery, of 17th-century malalignment, of constant misinterpretation. We don’t all look like Gray Malin portraits or the vintage posters of the 1940s. We are such a strange collection of family. At once following behind an iridescent and gyrating folkloric legacy that encompasses West Indian, West African & a British snare drum. And then we eat shadeesh but don’t adequately honor our Portuguese heritage. I recently told a friend how I hoped we’d introduce Portuguese as a second language in Bermuda soon - to which she replied, another colonizer’s tongue. Which is of course, true, and also, our own tongue. As remarked by Shakespeare’s Caliban, as a language given to us so that we may curse.
Which, when we do, is the most colorful of cursing I’ve ever seen. The most - if possible- beautiful swearing on this earth. I sat at that same friend’s house recently and heard two Bermudians yelling and swearing at each other. This mouth, with which we speak, with which Mandy honors to write, is such the most hallowed home. Even when blaspheming.
*The Eleutheran Adventurers were a group of English Puritans and religious Independents who left Bermuda to settle on the island of Eleuthera in the Bahamas in the late 1640s. This group represented the first concerted European effort to colonize the Bahamas.
1673 - Bermudians came to the Turks Islands to rake the salt and take it back to Bermuda.
**Of course now, we have Japanese Jazz players such as Takuya Kuroda who doesn’t so much as draw an extra eyeblink.
***Gaston Bachelard, The Poetics of Space. 1958
Mandy-Suzanne Wong can be found at http://mandysuzannewong.com/
otherwise, I'm sure, she can also be found. in some sort of nook - reading, writing, sliding in and out of your immediate periphery, but ever present on this little vexed rock.
aka Conch Fritters, Shark Hash & the Like
A full plate made by someone's aunty at a Cupmatch Camp, also, a half Lobster in Season & Codfish on Sundays
Add a description about this item"Nonetheless, in spite of this, more Caribbean migrants entered, and with their predecessors bought homes, built innumerable businesses, staffed schools (around Pembroke and, indeed, around the island), educated a generation of Bermudians, and promoted the education of their own children. Often this went on quietly with little celebration of either their hard work or their vision." A thankless, homing.
In the midst of trauma, lived or - like Keilyn's gutwrenching piece - closely observed. How the body keeps score in the midst of trauma, how memory asserts itself or shows up entirely thin and fuzzy, in effort of protection.
Something with Surinam cherries, or loquats or Bermuda Bananas or, hopefully, a piece of glass candy from a bake-sale table
The role the 'postscript' is to accompany the central theme or tone of the issue. In that way, the postscript acts as an of addendum of sorts, a further reading, a thing that offers a bit more context. Maybe it takes the form of notes for one issue, a reference list, or a Works Cited and fleshes out certain ideas put forth in the Longform piece. Maybe sometimes it takes the form of links to other readings, documentaries, things that will accompany the issue. Imagine it as a literary soundtrack - the thing that compliments the contributors' works. It's the editor scoring the issue that they have so carefully curated - making it sonorous and full of harmony.
Is a local illustrator whose work is created in, inspired by and made for Bermuda and her people.
Chenae is a writer, wine aficionado, & self-defined sad girl.
Previously her work focused on music reviews, criticism & op-eds about life and love. With a new focus, she is back in Bermuda and writing more.
Keilyn Lightbourn has a liberal arts degree from Bermuda College, and a BA in French Language and Culture from Randolph-Macon Women’s College. She loves music, literature, films, irreverent humor and solitude. She is married with two daughters.
bermuda born, london based photographic artist and filmmaker. offspring of light and shadow
writes poems and fictions; daydreams recklessly, binges on blood oranges, is your editor, & still, does not have a license to drive a car.
Dueane is the Vice President of Atlantic Security Limited as an Insurance Executive.
His hobbies include, but are not limited to:
and enjoying the occasional wine, rum or similar spirit.
This issue is beholden to his donation.