Cara-Lyn Morgan grew up as a bit of a nomad, living at various times in Regina, SK, Windsor, ON and BC’s Okanagan region. She originally moved to Victoria to attend Camosun College’s criminal justice program and complete a criminology degree she had begun earlier at the University of Windsor.

But it turned out that Morgan was a poet at heart. UVic entered the picture as her Camosun program was wrapping up, and she decided to enrol as a Visual Arts student—initially only taking Writing courses on the side. “I had no plans of it being anything other than four years of creating art and maybe writing a few things,” she recalls. “But I never even finished my visual arts degree because I was so taken by poetry.”

For some students, the path through life is clear; others take a more circuitous journey to arrive at their destination. Morgan, who earned a Bachelor of Fine Arts in 2008, definitely sees herself in the latter camp, but the publication of her latest collection—Building a Nest from the Bones of My People—finds her weaving the various strands of her life into a powerful book of poetry fusing both sides of her cultural history. Morgan has both Indigenous (Métis) and immigrant (Trinidadian) roots.

“I feel like poetry has to do with the human voice in all of us,” she says. “I realize now that I’ve been a poet my whole life, but I just never understood what poetry was until I took my first class [at UVic]—no one had ever told me it was about more than just making up little cute rhymes.”

Part of that love of the lyrical stemmed from the Writing department’s poetic giants of the day: Lorna Crozier and Tim Lilburn, plus acclaimed instructors Carla Funk and Steven Price. “It was Tim who identified early on that I had a unique Afro-Indigenous voice that hadn’t been heard in Canada before,” Morgan recalls. “My professors saw the value of my work and recognized that I had a fresh perspective; that made me realize there was a seat at the table for me as a poet. That faith really fuelled my desire to put my work out in the world.”

Thanks to her Trinidadian father, Morgan was familiar with Caribbean and African-American authors, but it was at UVic that she first started to explore her Indigenous identity through the work of Canadian Indigenous poets like current Writing professor Gregory Scofield and Louise Halfe—and also with other students.

“The first time I was really exposed to Indigenous people was through the Indigenous student association,” she recalls. “Coming from a Métis family that had passed for white, it didn’t really mean much to me before; I guess I had always seen the two parts of my culture as very dual, so I now had to navigate how to combine them. I started to see an interconnection between these two cultural realities and began to braid them together as the product of colonization.”

The braiding continued off-campus as well, when her criminology background led to a job with the Canada Border Services Agency. “I wrote my first poetry collection in between ferries while sitting in the Victoria/US border booth—a lot of that work was actually written on those little declaration cards you get when you come across the border,” she chuckles.

Currently based in Toronto, Morgan still works for the Canada Border Services Agency (now in Indigenous affairs)—a position she holds thanks in part to some advice from Lorna Crozier.

“I remember sitting in Lorna’s office and telling her that I wanted to be a poet,” Morgan recalls. “She said to me, ‘Are you independently wealthy? Because every artist needs a job that will allow them to create their work.’ She basically told me that the idea of the starving poet is a myth, which freed me up to realize that a good, steady government job can actually be inspiring and offer the space and time and money to create work in a way that’s really free.”

Clearly it was good advice, as Morgan’s first two poetry collections, What Became My Grieving Ceremony and Cartograph, were released in 2014 and 2017. Her latest, Building a Nest from the Bones of My People, was published in the fall of 2023 and explores the colonial injury of Black and Indigenous people from an intergenerational perspective.

She sees the history of Canadian colonization—both the transatlantic slave trade and First Nations enfranchisement and oppression—as two sides of a coin, which she explores in her new collection. “It was really about unifying those sides for me… I was able to stop feeling like I had a split personality and it was just part of the whole story.”