This article was originally published in the Feb. 26, 2017, edition of the Sun.
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Under the dim lights of a Shrewsbury Street bar John Dervishian, Worcester’s barroom poet, huddles over a draft beer penning words to cocktail napkins, lottery slips and crumpled receipt paper.
Sitting by himself on a Wednesday night, Dervishian tries to explain to a curious bartender why he has pen in hand and an escalating scrum of notes and napkins strewn in front of him.
“It gets lonely in my head sometimes, but it’s also crowded,” Dervishian says.
“When it’s in there, and I write it down on something, it’s almost like a weight being lifted off of me. It’s done. I can move on,” he said. “It’s only going to bother me if I don’t get it out. It’s a huge release to get it out of my mind.”
Dervishian, 45, is known by a variety of nicknames across Worcester’s bars and coffee shops, including “The Bearded Poet,” “The Angry Poet” and “The Barstool Poet.”
Most nights, Dervishian can be found on a barstool amid the Shrewsbury Street bustle where he’s no stranger to striking up conversations with other bar patrons and whoever the bartender is on duty.
“He’s a real nice guy. At first, I wasn’t so sure about someone sitting at the bar and writing, but you get used to it,” said Sarah Cellucci, a bartender at Frank’s Bar who grew up in Sutton and lives in West Boylston. “I’ve never seen it before as a bartender.”
Dervishian said it’s the people, their conversations and their interactions with one another and bartenders that inspire his poetry.
“Anything about the bar scene can trigger something in my mind. It could be if the bartender looks great, or if I meet someone at the bar, really anything that happens to me when I sit down at a bar.”
Beyond Frank’s, Dervishian can also be found observing and writing at Funky Murphy’s, Stake’s Sports Pub, The Blarney Stone, The Compass Tavern, Blackstone Tap, Boynton Restaurant & Spirits and Ralph’s Rock Diner.
“I’ve read some of what he has written at the bar right after he writes it. It’s very dry,” Cellucci added. “He writes everything as it’s happening.”
Raylene Wise, originally from Worcester and now living in Grafton, and a former bartender at The Compass Tavern, said having Dervishian at the bar can be entertaining. “It’s fun watching such a free-spirited mind at work. You never know what he’s going to write about.”
Dervishian, a character in his own right, shares the story of when he met Green Island and Canal District mainstay “Fast Frankie” at Hotel Vernon.
“I met this older guy and was shooting the shit with him and he started telling me he was the president of Worcester,” Dervishian said. “You knew he was a regular there, but I started writing based on the stories he was telling me. I wrote this entire poem just about him.
“Fast Frankie” by John Dervishian
He sits at the bar
Sipping a draft beer
Out of a stained mug
From the looks of him
His name is scarred
Into the stool where he sits
His face covered with
Abrasions and bruising
I take a seat next to him
Despite the many empty stools
I order my dollar draft
And shoot him with a “cheers”
He turns to me and
As Frankie “the president of Worcester”
He tells me
He has been managing
This run down city for years
With no appreciation
From the city dwellers
He points to the mark
On his chin and explains
That “this was from the war”
The time spent on the battlefield
He tells me that he
Has been trying to
Clean up this city
And is making no progress
I listen intently
To what he has to say
And nod my head in accordance
I then finish my beer
And thank him for his
Many years of service
By buying him a drink
I then walk out to
The city that he
Has been trying to mend
And realize what he was saying
Dervishian is often a part of Ralph’s Rock Diner’s “Dirty Gerund Poetry” night on Mondays, where poetry readings and other writing performances and competitions are featured at the iconic watering hole.
“When I go to Ralph’s, they refer to me as the Barroom Poet. My style is a lot different than other people that read. I’m more straightforward and honest,” he said. “I use a lot of sarcasm, humor and emotion.”
Alex Charalambides of Worcester a co-host of the Dirty Gerund show, said Dervishian’s distinct style fits right in.
“His work produces a lot of laughs, and definitely some groans from time to time. I enjoy a lot of John’s work,” Charalambides said. “He’s got a fun, irreverent style that blends in well with our landscape. It is the Dirty Gerund, after all.”
“I enjoy his writing,” said Worcester’s Nicholas Earl Davis, the other Dirty Gerund co-host. “It’s a nice throwback style. He reads a couple times a month and we usually come up with a variety of ways of introducing performers.”
Dervishian, the father of two daughters aged 10 and 13, moved to Worcester in 2005. The Fitchburg State College graduate has worked as a special investigator for the state Department of Children and Families the past 21 years.
“I never read poetry as a kid. I never took any poetry classes in school. When I started writing, it wasn’t because I wanted to write poetry,” Dervishian said. “It stemmed from a lot of emotion and things I went through growing up.”
Dervishian, originally from Cambridge, said he was 19 when that emotion first catalyzed his passion for poetry. He had gotten in trouble with the police following a fight. A friend — his best friend — who was also involved was going to jail.
“So someone I grew up with and went to school with — through kindergarten, grammar school and high school, and even our first year in college — we got into a big fight with other kids in another town, and he went to prison for it. After that, things kind of fell apart.
“I really didn’t have much support from my family after that,” Dervishian said. “So whatever I was feeling, I started putting it down on paper.”
He is the author of three published works of poetry, including his latest from 2014, “bar room poetry: poems soaked in booze”. His first published work, “Purification”, was released in 2009 and was followed up by “You can’t get inside my head it’s already overcrowded” the following year.
It’s easy for his readers to see the role drinking plays in his work, but Dervishian insists that drinking is separate from writing.
“A lot of people ask me if I can write when I’m not drinking or only if I am drinking. But drinking doesn’t really play a role. It’s not part of the creative process. I like to drink if I’m writing, but I don’t need to drink if I’m writing,” Dervishian said.
The major theme of his work, Dervishian insists, is relationships.
“When I’m writing, it makes me process and reflect on a lot of relationships that I’ve had, or want or need. Drinking certainly heightens that,” he said.
Additionally, Dervishian said, getting caught up in the usual day-to-day responsibilities of life tend to force his pen to paper.
Dervishian said, “I used to plan time to sit down and write, but as a writer you really can’t force anything out. It’s pretty sporadic now for me. I can go a couple of weeks without writing anything. Although after that point, I start going through withdrawals from writing.”
“I’ve never been trained in poetry or how to write poetry. It’s just me putting words on paper. And that’s how I see it and do it.”
More of Dervishian’s poetry can be found at streetcornerpoetry.blogspot.com.