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Last Modified: October 17, 2021
Uche Umezurike Interviews Kat Cameron, author of Ghosts Still Linger
Uche Umezurike Interviews Kat Cameron

“Canadian poetry today encompasses so many different voices and stories. For me, that’s one reason to write—to give a voice to the silenced and forgotten.” —Kat Cameron

Kat Cameron’s second poetry collection, Ghosts Still Linger (University of Alberta Press, 2020), has just won the 2021 High Plains Book Award for Poetry, and was a finalist for the Stephan G. Stephansson Award for Poetry. Her collection of short stories, The Eater of Dreams, was shortlisted for the Danuta Gleed Literary Award. She lives in Edmonton on Treaty 6 territory and teaches creative writing at Concordia University of Edmonton. 

Uche spoke with Cameron about Ghosts Still Linger, in which she converses with the past, probing its spectral aspect with delicate, gentle fingers while unmasking what haunts the present, our memories, our relationships, our lives. Her poetry, so finely calibrated, is not entirely elegiac but commemorative of the lives—of women, in particular—too often deemed marginal by androcentric narratives.  

Book cover image for Ghosts Still LingerGhosts Still Linger touches upon memory, history, ancestry, and geography. What inspired you to write this collection and what was the process like for you? 

The book was inspired when my husband and I drove to Wyoming in 2013, stopping at the Buffalo Bill Center of the West. A glass case in the museum held a pair of white shoes that belonged to Buffalo Bill’s daughter Arta, who died a few months after her second wedding. 

Her story a side show—a few photos
and a pair of satin shoes in a glass case.

That started me thinking about the women and children of the West whose stories weren’t told. The poems in Ghosts Still Linger began with that image of white shoes in a glass case. 

Writing the first draft took two years. When I finished this initial draft, I sent it to the publisher of my first book. After a year, they accepted it but then stopped responding to my emails. Two years later, the company went out of business, without contacting me again. By that time, I’d rewritten most of the book. I submitted the manuscript to three Alberta publishers, and the University of Alberta Press accepted it in 2019. The entire process took seven years from writing the first poem in 2013 to publication in 2020. There were times when I almost gave up. Fortunately, I persevered because the people at the University of Alberta Press are fantastic! They’ve created this beautiful book and they support their writers. 

The book is sectioned into three parts: “Ghosts are Ordinary,” “Alberta Advantage,” and “Lightning over Wyoming.” Why did you structure it that way?

That’s a fantastic question! The structure of the book was a challenge. I didn’t begin with a specific order. The sequence of historical poems was written first. I admire collections of poetry about one figure from history, like White Stone: The Alice Poems by Stephanie Bolster, but my style is more fragmentary and multivocal. The manuscript went through several different structures but finally clicked when I started with personal poems in “Ghosts are Ordinary.” “Alberta Advantage” explores memory and place, both the negative changes in my home and the beauty of places such as Kananaskis. The book closes with “Lightning over Wyoming,” a personal poem about the trip to Devils Tower with my husband, the trip that inspired the book.

Samuel Pepys, Buffalo Bill, and Annie Oakley feature in your book. What attracted you to these historical figures? What significance do they hold for this moment? 

I read Claire Tomalin’s Samuel Pepys: The Unequalled Self several years ago and was struck by Pepys’ amazing voice. So I wrote “A Diary” before the pandemic. Reading it now, I’m struck by how blunt Pepys was about the loss of life around him during the Great Plague in London in 1665. Pepys is interesting because he’s so open. He doesn’t hide his flaws.

Annie Oakley is one of the few women of the West whose story is well-known. For me, she exemplifies a woman who followed her own path, despite all the obstacles she faced. I love that her image by Alan Brownoff is on the cover. I usually end readings with “Glass Targets in a Museum.”

Annie, keep breaking those spheres

above our heads—targets clear as glass—
              no tricks, no lies. 

Buffalo Bill is a gateway to the other voices in the “Lighting over Wyoming” section—the forgotten voices. Certain mythologized male figures from the West block out the other stories. In the museum, there’s a hologram of Buffalo Bill that I reference in “Man of the West,” the first poem in this section.

Look through his transparent image. Listen
to the vanished voices behind him. 

Canadian poetry today encompasses so many different voices and stories. For me, that’s one reason to write—to give a voice to the silenced and forgotten. 

There are powerful images in the poem “Haunted.” I find this couplet very striking: “The room has been emptied—chair and table, / bureau, bed. Nothing left but memory’s shell.” How did that imagery come about? 

“Haunted” was written for my first husband, Barry, who died of complications from cystic fibrosis. I was at a Dionne Brand poetry reading at Grant MacEwan, and I heard someone in the audience say, “After all this time, she ghosted me.” The phrase stayed with me. Barry died in 1993, and I thought about the ways we forget loved ones, turning them into ghosts. The poem moves through the stages of grieving, such as clearing out a bedroom and giving away clothes: “Think of death / as a slow shedding of possessions.”

That is powerful but heartbreaking imagery, Kat. To think of death as a shedding of what once belonged to a loved one. Poems such as “Athabasca Glacier 1924,” “Hinton 2013,” “Johnston Canyon,” “K-Country,” and “Old North Trail” capture evocative moments in Alberta. “Rollerblades” and “Whyte Avenue 2 a.m.” portray a dim aspect of Whyte Avenue. What has place meant to you?

I grew up in Alberta and I’ve seen the negative changes over the past forty years. Climate change has seriously impacted the glaciers, fires and drought have damaged the land, the boom-and-bust economy has hurt people. At the same time, I love the beauty of the prairies and mountains. The poems are an elegy for the Alberta I remember and a map for positive change. 

Finally, while many of the poems have elegiac tones, “Poetic License,” “VW Ramblings,” and “Annie’s Gun” offer some humour. What do you most hope readers will take away from your collection?

I think of myself as a storyteller, both in poetry and prose. The stories in Ghosts Still Linger haunt me, whether they’re about people I’ve lost or Whyte Avenue or Annie Oakley. I hope these stories resonate with readers.

Uche Peter Umezurike holds a PhD from the department of English and Film Studies at the University of Alberta, Canada, where he is an Assistant Lecturer. An alumnus of the International Writing Program (USA), he is a co-editor of Wreaths for a Wayfarer, an anthology of poems. His children’s book Wish Maker and collection of short stories Double Wahala Double Trouble are forthcoming from Masobe Books, Nigeria and Griots Lounge Publishing, Canada, in fall 2021.

Ghosts Still Linger

Kat Cameron

Published: Feb 18, 2020 by University of Alberta Press
ISBN: 9781772125092