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An ode to Gordon Lightfoot

[Carolyn Smart and Gordon Lightfoot]
Carolyn Smart speaks with Gordon Lightfoot during the launch event for “50-plus Poems for Gordon Lightfoot,” an anthology of poetry in honour of the music legend. (Supplied photo)

Imagine being a teen girl in late-1960s Toronto and meeting Canadian music icon Gordon Lightfoot – the patron saint of the city's arts scene at the time - and in his own home no less.

That personal connection is the inspiration for Carolyn Smart’s (English) contribution to a newly-published book of poetry called 50+ Poems for Gordon Lightfoot.

A lifelong Lightfoot fan, Ms. Smart was contacted by Fred Addis, the curator for the Stephen Leacock Museum in Lightfoot’s hometown of Orillia and the organizer of the project, to provide a piece for the anthology. She was honoured just to be asked.

“I was just thrilled out of my mind. I couldn’t believe it was happening to me because, in fact, the poem that I wrote for this anthology tells the story of a true event that happened to me when I was in Grade 13,”she says.

As Ms. Smart, a published poet with six books to her credit who teaches Contemporary Canadian Literature and Creative Writing at Queen’s University, tells the tale, she and a pair of friends got up the courage to knock on the door of Lightfoot’s house.

As they tried to talk their way past the housekeeper Maria, who said the singer was not home, Lightfoot himself intervened.

“She was protecting him. He was preparing for his upcoming Massey Hall concert and just at that point we said ‘Well, we can hear him in here.’ She said ‘No he’s not here.’ He came down the stairs and he invited us in and he had Maria serve us tea,” she says. “We all sat around in his living room, had tea and chatted away.”

Guitarist Red Shea then entered the room and told Lightfoot that it was time to go. But the good times weren’t over for Ms. Smart and her friends.

“He went out one door and we went out the front door and were sort of floating around on the sidewalk and at that point two girls approached us from our high school – girls that we did not like,” she recalls with a laugh. “And at that exact moment Gord and Red Shea drove by and Gord honked his horn and waved at us. And these girls said ‘Oh my God, Oh my God’ and we said ‘Oh yeah, we’ve been hanging out with him.’

“It was the most amazing event, so that’s what I wrote the poem about.”

At the book’s recent launch in Toronto, with Lightfoot in attendance, Ms. Smart was among nine poets to read their piece while several musicians played songs and recounted what Lightfoot has meant to their careers.

“Each of the musicians spoke so generously about Gord and his kindness and his support of them when they were up-and-coming,” she says. “Throughout the evening it became crystal clear, as if I didn’t know it already, what an important impact he has had for generations in this country, both in music and in literature. He was just charming to me afterwards as usual, just the kindest, most respectful person. It was wonderful.”

Three other members of the Queen’s community are also in the anthology: Toronto poet laureate George Elliott Clarke, who earned his PhD from Queen's; Daniel David Moses, a professor in the drama department; and Ms. Smart’s former student Darryl Whetter, now a professor at Université Sainte-Anne.