The Next Chapter·Q&A

Zoey Roy's visual album Zoetry uses poetry and performance art to bear witness

The Nehiyaw, Dené and Métis spoken word artist and emcee speaks with Shelagh Rogers about combining art forms to create her visual album Zoetry.
Zoey Roy is a Nehiyaw, Dené and Métis spoken-word artist and emcee. (Sweetmoon Photography)

Zoey Roy is a Nehiyaw, Dené and Métis spoken-word artist, emcee and member of the Peter Ballantyne Cree Nation in Saskatchewan. Roy uses her spoken word art to teach and to heal and to celebrate creativity, resilience and resurgence.

Her upcoming album is called Zoetry. It combines visual and oral storytelling and draws from Roy's life experiences to reflect on what it means to be human. 

Zoey Roy spoke with Shelagh Rogers about creating Zoetry from Kingston, Ont.

How would you describe the journey you go through in Zoetry?

My elder Maria Campbell told me that my role as an artist is to be a mirror. She calls it the act of reflecting. I wanted to create an experience that helped people reflect, but to disarm them from their own judgments of their own actions throughout their own life.

I wanted them to witness my imperfect journey in an effort to encourage their compassion for their own self.

I wanted them to witness my imperfect journey in an effort to encourage their compassion for their own self. I feel like the journey is about the act of seeing oneself.

Zoey 'Pricelys' Roy reads The Tree

4 months ago
Duration 3:10
Poet Zoey 'Pricelys' Roy reads her poem, The Tree.

How did Zoetry come to you?

I got sober in April 2020, and that was after writing my master's thesis, only to realize that I was very victim-oriented in my conscious mind. I also knew that there was more to life than that. Sobriety was my first step to being open to whatever life had to offer. Then I started therapy, and I got a complex PTSD diagnosis, which is from elongated childhood trauma.

When I first learned I had complex PTSD, I thought I was fragmented and broken and incomplete — and I was very harsh and judgmental of myself. Of course, we were in the pandemic, and I just wrote. And there was this unraveling process that was happening. The more I wrote, the more I realized that there are different voices in my head, that there are different voices in my body, actually. And so, there are four voices in Zoetry. There is the the wounded inner adult. There is true inner adult, the inner parent. Then there is the wounded inner child. And then there's the true inner child.

What if we looked at ourselves as creation and not so much through the lens of our social constructs?

Through the process of Zoetry, I let different parts of me take the pen, and I allow myself to just be a conduit for my truth. I did a lot of hypnotherapy, a lot of therapy and a lot of reflecting and self-work — things like going and being with nature, being with the plants, watching a spider build a web.

I was just grounding myself to be creation. I grew up with the social construction of being an Indigenous woman in Canada and so, all I felt was the social implications of being Indigenous in Canada. I didn't realize that I am actually created; I am creation — and so are all of us.

What if we looked at ourselves as creation and not so much through the lens of our social constructs?

Zoey Roy performs at the Regina Soundstage with Regina Symphony Orchestra Chamber Players as part of Enough is Enough. She wrote poetry for six pieces to accompany this project that merges music and Indigenous historical and cultural educational resource designed for high school students. (Submitted by Regina Symphony Orchestra)

You speak about poetry and and what poetry has done for you in your life. How did poetry find you? 

I was so young. I really loved performance. I loved using the imagination. Poetry found me when I was in Grade Two. My teacher, Mrs. Smith, let us find a poem from the library to read and recite. And I loved how you can you can lock people in to a story. They listen and they celebrate that with you — or they go through the journey with you. 

And I kept that. That's a superpower!  I needed to be witnessed so bad as a teenager. I am just so happy that I had that little superpower inside of me.

You're not a victim in that space because you're the one with the microphone. And I think that's powerful.

Rap is very much the same thing. Rap is storytelling, it's poetry. But it very much emulates the reality of life. You're not a victim in that space because you're the one with the microphone. And I think that's powerful.

Zoetry is your life and your journey. How does it feel as you're about to release it into the world?

I'm one of those people that is bubbly and generous and kind and giving — I'm an auntie. That's who I am. But it's also a mask. And I had to put those masks down in order to survive. Kelly Fraser is a young Inuit singer who was a really good friend of mine, and when she died to suicide, I knew that it was a matter of life or death that I had to put my masks down.

So sure, my spirit, my ego might feel exposed — but my soul has never been happier.

I am a poet. It is my gift to observe, to witness and to write. What I learned is that it's the spirit that creates, but it's the soul that needs the spirit to create. And it's the soul that listens to the poetry. It's the soul of everyone that I am creating this for.

My spirit, my ego might feel exposed — but my soul has never been happier.

Zoey Roy's comments have been edited for length and clarity.

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