Winning ways . Poet Jan Vernon reads over her winning poem Disposable. PHOTO: SUPPLIED

by Shelley Inon

Wallingford rest-home resident Jan Vernon might be 99 years old, but that has not stopped her from writing.

After starting to write poetry at 70 years old, she won the Waitaki poetry competition last year with her 26-line poem Disposable.

Ms Vernon said she had always been interested in poetry – “it’s been in my blood”.

Born in Woking in England, she had fond memories of her sister – who was eight years older than her – reading poetry to her after World War 1.

She had gone on to live a varied life, which had offered her a vast range of experiences to draw from for her writing, Ms Vernon said.

One of her earliest adventures was joining the services.

Being sick of office work, she signed up to the Women’s Land Army (WLA) in Somerset.

She had wanted to join the air force, “but I was no good at maths”.

The WLA had its own uniform, and work included milking cows. While “machines were coming” they were late arriving, and she learnt to milk by hand.

Over the years she’d penned many poems – including one which compared horses with motor cars.

She wrote “mostly non-rhyming stuff”, Ms Vernon said.

She won the 2009 Timaru Festival of Roses poetry competition with her poem A Fantasy of Roses and had had her work published in many magazines.

However, she had found it difficult to submit poetry in recent years, as hard copy was no longer universally accepted.

However, being a “life member” of the Waitaki Writers group, she had seen the Waitaki poetry competition come up and decided to enter.

Celebrating the fact that she had managed to submit the poetry with a “Congratulations me!” she had almost forgotten about it.

But when – after all that hard work – she found out she had won, she was “delighted”.

Unlike other competitions, where the prize is simply bragging rights, this one had a small monetary reward.

Not one to sit back and put her feet up, she hoped to put her writing to good use in the future, Ms Vernon said.

She wanted to help other older people – who were feeling isolated – to find their perfect next step, as she had found at Wallingford.

She loved the “Eden Alternative Philosophy”, which the aged-care facility followed.

“There is a lot of laughter here.”

And as to works in progress, she wanted to “keep my head in action, so I hope to complete a very modest collection of light poems for personal publication”.

As for her tips on living to 99: “It’s luck.”