Port Alberni poet and former North Island College instructor Derek Hanebury was recently shortlisted for a provincial award.
The Federation of British Columbia Writers announced on March 6 that two poets had tied as winners of the 2019 Literary Writes contest. Winners Fran Bourassa and Lesley-Anne Evans were selected from a short list of four poets, which also included Port Alberni’s Hanebury.
Hanebury’s nod from Literary Writes is his third shortlisting in their poetry contest. The annual contest includes a prompt for writers to follow—this year’s theme was “Who Is ‘The Other’?”
“It was wonderful to see the wide range of approaches to the rich and complex theme of ‘The Other’,” said contest judge, Vancouver poet Fiona Tinwei Lam, in a press release. “Each of the winning poems was moving and powerful in its own way, integrating narrative, vivid imagery and lyric intensity to explore the devastating impact of the past on the present.”
Hanebury’s poem, By Any Other Name, approached the topic of ‘the other’ from the perspective of the immigrant. He explained that his poem was derived from a number of real-life incidences, such as the death of a drowned three-year-old Syrian refugee and the Central American migrant caravans that drew political attention in late 2018.
“I tend to find a lot of social justice issues creeping into my writing these days,” Hanebury said. “It’s in the ethos.”
Hanebury added that he appreciates the “challenge” of a theme in a writing contest.
“I used to use prompts a lot in my classes,” he said. “It’s always surprising what happens. It’s the joy of discovery of what’s meant to be written. To me, that’s the magic of the whole process.”
Hanebury started writing poetry at a young age, describing his teenage work as “horrible, emotional drivel.” In his early 20’s, some of his writing was submitted to Canadian poet Colleen Thibaudeau, who wrote an encouraging letter back.
“That was a turning point for me,” said Hanebury.
He had been working as a forest ranger for three years and felt “quite stifled” by his work, which led him to get serious about his writing by attending University of Victoria for creative writing. His first book of historical fiction, Ginger Goodwin: Beyond the Forbidden Plateau, was published shortly after his graduation from UVic. Two years later, in 1988, he started working at North Island College in Port Alberni.
Hanebury ended up teaching English and writing at NIC for almost 30 years, retiring in 2017 with an Emeritus distinction.
“I had the honour of teaching younger writers that were just awakening to the joy of writing,” he said. “I enjoyed fanning the flames.”
Hanebury’s first book of poetry, Nocturnal Tonglen, was published in 2006. Although Hanebury also writes creative non-fiction, short fiction and even drama, he says poetry has always been his “go-to” medium.
“I get an inspiration and within 15 minutes I can get the germ down,” he said. “You can pick it up when you get the chance.”
Hanebury is a long-time member of the Federation of British Columbia Writers, and also reads regularly at Alberni Valley Words on Fire, the monthly open mic event that takes place at Char’s Landing on the last Thursday of every month. He is currently working on another collection of poetry.