Why We Write: Poets of Vernon

English Professor Hannah Calder reads while sitting in her home office by a window

The writing community of Vernon is taking centre stage in a new film produced by OC English Professor and self-proclaimed budding filmmaker Hannah Calder.

For the last four years, Calder has been collaborating with Curtis and Silmara Emde on Why We Write: Poets of Vernon, a film project originally sparked in 2017. Curtis, an OUC alumnus, has stayed in touch with his first-year English professor, Tom Wayman, since completing his studies. When Wayman released his collection of music-related poetry called Helpless Angels, he was blown away by the poem "Shelby Wall and John Lent Perform 12-Bar Blues at the Upstairs, Vernon, B.C."

That poem initially served as inspiration for a short film, and as the Emdes and Calder set up to shoot, the trio realized they had stumbled on something much more.

"We realized that Vernon seemed to have an inordinately high number of excellent poets -- both connected to the College and independent of it," Curtis recalls. "The question we kept coming back to was, 'Why? Why have so many first-rate poets come from Vernon? Why do others choose to move here, to make it their home and workplace, so far from the so-called centres of arts like Vancouver, Montreal or Toronto?'"

Those questions definitely resonated with Calder, who returned to her hometown of Vernon in 2012 after spending years living in big cities.

"One of our goals was to show the feeling I had when I arrived here, that I was moving to a sort of cultural desert, was wrong -- on so many levels," Calder explains. "I discovered a rich, vibrant writing community here that has sustained me since my arrival."

Why We Write: Poets of Vernon is in the final stages of film production, with the release date projected for 2022. The Why We Write trailer is available on Vimeo for the OC community to get a sneak peek.

Calder and the Emdes filmed a host of local poetic talents like Sharon Thesen and John Lent,  Professor Emeritus at OC. Current OC Professors Kerry Gilbert, Jason Dewinetz and Michelle Doege are also showcased.

"To make this film, we didn’t need to look far to find people from from the OC community to help us.  Whether it was Amy Modahl putting us in touch with one of the film’s musicians, or Mike Minions volunteering to shoot a scene, or fellow writers and colleagues in the English Department putting up with Curtis and I attaching lav mics to them, shining lights in their faces and telling them where to stand, and we had so much help," Calder explains. "The film also gives back to the OC community by bringing attention to our writers that work in the Writing and Publishing Diploma program."

Published By College Relations on September 10, 2021

Department of English and Fine Arts

Studying English at the post-secondary level isn’t all about Shakespeare and five-paragraph essays. It’s about learning to think critically and engage with the world as informed, rational, and skilled communicators. The Department of English and Fine Arts explores the ways that language and literature operate in our lives and communities, and how they ultimately shape our view of the world and our place within it. Our English faculty have diverse backgrounds with expertise and experiences that enrich the learning process. We are poets, novelists, scholars, playwrights, memoirists, artists, and designers, immersed in a range of research and creative interests outside of the classroom. 

Meet the department

Writing and Publishing Diploma

There's more to writing and publishing than you think. This two-year diploma blends study in English, creative writing, editing, and communications theory with applied technical skills in graphic design, typography, coding, and book publishing.

Explore the diploma