Carl Leggo (1953-)

Carl Leggo is an autobiographical poet who evokes his nostalgic childhood experiences growing up on the now non-existent Lynch’s Lane, Corner Brook. Heavily influenced by fellow Corner Brook poet, Al Pittman, who Leggo first heard read in 1972, he, like Pittman, believes poetry should represent and narrate the experiences of people in a language that resonates with the heart’s memories. Born to Russell and Kerry Leggo, Leggo worked as a teacher in Newfoundland for nine years during the 1980s, teaching in Roberts’ Arm, Stephenville and Corner Brook. In 1990, he accepted a faculty position as Associate Professor in the Language Education Department at the University of British Columbia, where he teaches classes in communication, writing, education and narrative research at both the undergraduate and graduate levels.

Carl Leggo, 2006
Carl Leggo, 2006
Carl Leggo is an autobiographical poet who evokes his nostalgic childhood experiences.
Photographer unknown. ©2006 Carl Leggo.

Leggo asserts that creative writing is vital to education but is often neglected in the study of English: "Students can be taught to write poetry, or perhaps more accurately, they can be invited to call forth the poetry that is in their bodies and imaginations and blood and ears and hearts. Because most people do not pay attention to the poetry that resides in them like a spirit, they do not know the pleasure of writing poetry" (Herald, Dec 4, 1999, p. 30).

His degrees include BA, BEd (Memorial University of Newfoundland); Certificate in Biblical Studies (Tyndale Seminary); MA, MEd (University of New Brunswick); PhD (University of Alberta). When not teaching or writing, Leggo likes biking, running, and walking on the dike in Steveston, British Columbia where he lives with his wife Lana Verge and their two children, Anna and Aaron. He returns every summer to Corner Brook, which he still considers his home after living more than sixteen years on the Pacific coast of Canada. He still longs for the North Atlantic coast and Newfoundland, which will always be home.

Growing Up Perpendicular on the Side of a Hill

Leggo’s first book of poetry, Growing Up Perpendicular on the Side of a Hill (1994), clearly and evocatively recalls male childhood experiences growing up on the predominately Protestant Lynch’s Lane, Corner Brook. The author details the rambunctious childhood play and complementing imagination of “Cec, Frazer, Macky, my brother and I” in a time no longer existent since urban growth. Watching and fretful mothers, isolated and estranged characters framed in windows with unique yet somehow common Newfoundland experiences watch the seasons and people move while licking every popsicle flavour available, highlight the past, present and future of Lynch Lane’s inhabitants to cement the sense of “stories beyond memory/ stories beyond literacy/ untold unread unwritten.” Certainly, Leggo creates a soft spot for his sometimes dubious, sometimes enchanting characters, leaving the reader craving more. As he says, “it is my intention to hint at stories, and invite readers to imagine the larger stories that I hint at” (ibid 30).

Leggo also hauntingly yet playfully projects the possibilities, excitement and losses of emigration, which are not always a result of external forces. Maggie Mercer’s house is swept off its foundation with all “the little and big Mercers” in to the swirls of the Atlantic after a dam built by the children bursts from their screams. Yet the Mercers humorously send Christmas cards every season from Tahiti, Australia, Fiji or Madagascar, the narrator recalls that their departure brings life and excitement despite the loss. This sense of contradiction echoes in the character sketches where tragic characters sometimes succumb and sometimes defeat time and circumstance. Above all, the collection recollects Lynch’s Lane with an odd sense of humour—the barber Harvey Balsam skins the head of the local surgeon’s son, Derek LeDrew, who wants “a precise and careful haircut/because his family was spending/Christmas vac in Jamaica,” all because barbers, unlike surgeons, are not bound under the “Hypocratic Oath.” Leggo’s playful humour deters the collection from sentimentality and places the inhabitants’ experience with scattered reference to more prevalent North American popular culture of the 1950s and 1960s.

View from My Mother's House

The release of his second collection, View from My Mother’s House (1999), continues the examination of Lynch Lane years later. It is also more engaged with women and female spaces than his first more male-orientated book. As Leggo has noted, “men and women need to hear each other’s stories” (Herald, Dec 4, 1999). There is an extended emphasis on the longing and heartache of living abroad, which acts as a fitting sequel to his first collection.

His short fiction, poetry and academic articles have been published in numerous journals around the world, some of which include Language Arts, English Quarterly, Rhetoric Review, English Journal, Voices in the Middle, Journal of Educational Thought, TickleAce, The Fiddlehead, The Antigonish Review, Ariel and The Cormorant. A new book of poems titled Come-By-Chance will be published by Breakwater Books (St. John's) around the end of 2006.

Lynch’s Lane

like black lines burned in wood
with a glass for focusing
the sun in a point
Lynch’s Lane is etched in my body:

the first orange popsicle
later lime grape pineapple even
but none ever tasted as good
as the first orange popsicle
of summer with mosquitoes
sweat stinging sunburn
water and tar on the lane
to keep dust down
Skipper mowing the grass
with whistles of the scythe

autumn potatoes no bigger
than jumbo marbles boiled
in the skins sprinkled
with salt the world afire
in squashberry crumbles bakeapple jam
blueberry pies partridgeberry jelly
the wind rustling restlessly
with Cec, Frazer, Macky,
my brother, and me playing war
cricket kick the can at day’s end

sucking icicles knocked from the eaves
hot cocoa drunk over the furnace grate
Old Mrs. Eaton climbing Lynch’s Lane
grasping the fence like a ladder
picket after picket gasping through wool
noses pressed to frosted windows
homemade bread with Good Luck margarine
howling winter winds the house like an ark
mothers calling, Where are you going?
You can’t see your noses

orange sherbet dipped in chocolate
the pink flesh of fried trout
all the neighbours in their yards
shovelling snow searching for crocuses
fallen leaves holding the sun
and cutting shapes in ice
everywhere the air lemon
smell of freshly washed cotton
the world melting splashing washing
away like saints in the River Jordan

like black lines pricked in skin
with a needle for focussing
India ink in a point
Lynch’s Lane is tattooed in my body: