A/r/tography: “To be engaged in the practice of a/r/tography means to inquire in the world through an ongoing process of art making in any artform and writing not separate or illustrative of each other but interconnected and woven through each other to create additional and/or enhanced meanings.” Professor Rita L. Irwin, UBC Department of Curriculum & Pedagogy
An arts-based education researcher, Professor Carl Leggo is part of the a/r/tography movement at UBC. His 1989 dissertation at the University of Alberta was filled with poetry; at the time, he didn’t realize his research was connected to a network of others who also identify as artists, researchers and teachers (a/r/t). He joined UBC in 1990 and found a welcoming home within the Faculty of Education with a host of like-minded colleagues with backgrounds in English, Literature, Drama, Lifewriting, Visual Art, and Music. They embraced the possibilities of creative work and arts-based dissertations, and they embraced him.
Q & A with Professor Leggo
Who are you?
I am a Poet, Scholar and Teacher.
What are you working on?
I’m working on four things right now—
First, my primary focus is teaching high-school English teacher candidates within our Bachelor of Education Program at UBC. Our teacher candidates have just returned from their extended practicums in schools. I love sharing the joy of inquiry-based, creative learning with them, and through them, with future generations of learners.
Second, I am co-organizing (with my colleagues Senior Instructor Kedrick James and Professor George Belliveau, and a team of creative graduate students) events with titles like Ecopoetics in the Garden. These gatherings at UBC bring together like-minded individuals across research disciplines to think about sustainability through the arts in natural environments. Supported by the Ritsumeikan Seed Fund in the Department of Language and Literacy Education, we hope to develop collaborations that can blossom into future initiatives involving ecology and arts-based practices. For example, today I will read a poem I wrote, Pondering the Ponderosa, at the ancient Ponderosa Pine in front of our department’s new home in the Education Centre at Ponderosa Commons. Recently, Associate Professor Celeste Snowber, a colleague from Simon Fraser University, led us through the UBC Botanical Garden, where she danced and read poetry. The purpose of the ecopoetic walks is to provide a space and place to reflect on sustainability in personal and creative ways at UBC. Thinking about the juxtaposition of the natural in the urban setting helps us understand how to live well and how to tend to our creative spirits in critical ways.
Third, I’m working on the continuation of research, funded by the Canadian Institutes of Health Research that dates back more than a decade, working with women with incarceration experience. With the research question, What do women with incarceration experience need in order to live well?, a team of academics, activists and women with incarceration experience, lead by UBC’s Dr. Ruth Martin (School of Population and Public Health), is investigating the kinds of support that women need while in prison as well as following their release from prison as they seek to transition and reintegrate into society.
I led writing workshops as an educational and healing activity for the women. While my part in the research is relatively small, the projects have created a place for women-centered leadership that has revolutionized possibilities for women in prison as well as after their incarceration. As an outcome of the research, I co-edited Arresting Hope: Prisons That Heal in 2014 which focuses on five women in Alouette Correctional Centre for Women in Maple Ridge — a warden, a doctor, a recreation therapist, an educator and an inmate. The book includes poetry, stories, letters, interviews and other writings. The book was published by Inanna Publications which specializes in women’s writing, both literary and academic. I am now working with my co-editors, Dr. Ruth Martin, Mo Korchinski (Project Coordinator, UBC School of Population and Public Health), and Associate Professor Lynn Fels (SFU) on a second book, Releasing Hope, which focuses on research about the health and education goals that women with incarceration experience report are essential to their learning to live outside the prison walls. We expect the second book to be available in 2018. All proceeds from both books are donated to a bursary for women and children to pursue post-secondary education.
A fourth project I’ve recently been researching is focused on reproductive tourism in Cancun, Mexico. This project explores the use of poetry as a method of listening deeply to the stories of people who want to have children, but for various reasons are not able to do so without medical support. I’ve been exploring this research with UBC School of Population and Public Health colleagues Heather Walmsley and Associate Professor Susan Cox.Using three data sets, the inquiry raises distinctive ethical issues. Departing from typical forms of qualitative analysis, poetic inquiry emphasizes intuition, emotion, aesthetics and respectful play in the writing process. In our collaborations, we have found that the ethical, medical, economic, political, social, cultural and personal issues involved in reproductive tourism are highlighted as tangled and messy issues with no simple solutions or resolutions. Poetry invites writers and readers to linger with language and stories, to open up interrelated ways to understand the complexity of human experience.
What problem are you solving/addressing?
My work focuses on helping others understand that they are creative and gifted. Through our writing, we can find ways of living well together. I have often written about “living poetically.” Poetry invites us to attend to experiences and emotions. Poetry slows us down. As an educator, I am committed to supporting others to learn how to live with love, how to live creatively, how to live with hope, how to live with and on the earth with heart. Teaching and writing poetry, engaging in ecopoetics, narrating the experiences of incarcerated women and people involved in reproductive tourism, all help us to learn how to live well.
Why is it important?
As I walked my granddaughter home from school recently, we carried a diorama. She asked me, “Papa, did you make dioramas when you were in school?” I said, “No.” What I remember from my K-12 education in Newfoundland was rote learning, drills and tests. Contrary to rote learning, arts-based, inquiry learning is important because it brings forward the joy of learning. Children are engaged with the process of learning. I find more and more graduate students want to write poetry for their theses, and I always respond, “of course it’s possible.” The fundamental concept of a/r/tography acknowledges the holistic identity of the artist and researcher and teacher who is devoted to meaningful learning.
How does your work impact the general public?
All students have special needs and no child is particularly well served by homogeneity within the classroom. I strongly object to homogenized education. There are many who believe hybridization is not as good as the distinct originals and that subjects should be taught separately. But I believe a hybrid approach is a much stronger approach. Learning is not this or that, Math or Writing, but this and that—braiding together Math and Writing and Science and Literature for a stronger approach to learning within a holistic framework.
In the broader context, outside of education, much of our future well-being relies on the infusion of social sciences and humanities with the sciences. For example, if we’re going to cure cancer and help people live well, we must integrate an understanding of people and emotions within the context of Biology.
The fundamental inquiry of my work is—how can we live well? Poetry is the heart of all my research and teaching. Poetry is a way of attending to the personal, but poetry always reminds us that we always live in relationship with others, with the vast network of all creation.
I collaborate with many creative people—writers, actors, musicians, dancers, artists—because I understand that we are all creative and that creativity is essential to our learning how to live well together. The best scholarship and research and teaching will always be activist, transformative, and hopeful. This is the personal philosophy that fills me with enthusiasm in my commitments as a professor at UBC.