This edition of Quaker Artists features Zenaida Peterson (they/them), a Boston-based spoken word poet. They were PYM’s Annual Sessions 2020’s Artist-in-Residence. They work with Quaker Voluntary Service (QVS) and support the organizing of a poetry slam tournament called FEMS that centers on feminine people.
When did you first become aware of your vocation as a poet & who supported you in that? What about acceptance, how did that play out in your life?
In all honesty, I think I have struggled in believing in myself as an artist and maybe getting too wrapped up in what it could mean to be a writer or a poet than allowing myself to indulge in my love of the form. When I was in college, I read at open mics, and my school’s Assistant Athletics Director was the incredible poet Janae Johnson. She approached me after an open mic and asked if I wanted to slam and travel to poetry competitions. We created a team of artists who wrote and memorized, and practiced performance together until late in the night, writing papers in between. I think I knew that I wanted to be a poet when I experienced the warmth of community around poetry; being able to build with artists made it much more alive than when I would write for myself when I was younger. Janae supported me, and later another coach, Porsha Olayiwola, supported me, but I have felt a lot of love and support from poets and poetry communities across the country.
Many people struggle with the balance between art and employment. Was it difficult to gain traction as a performer even as you worked Quaker Voluntary Service (QVS)? How did your time at QVS positively impact your capacity as a poet?
In the evenings, I support the Feminine Empowerment Movement Slam (FEMS) in having a show twice a month, so although I work and use to travel for QVS, I still created time to be a part of the community. I think I struggle with creative discipline and have been taking classes and performing when I can because I do love it so much!
The Quaker community has seen you perform twice now, live at Quakers Got Talent (June 2019) and on Zoom at annual sessions (July/August). These were strong, memorable, and proficient performances. Artists and poets evolve over time; how would you say the intervening year affected your work as a poet?
I started to experiment more, relying less on slam as a form, and was writing more about my spirituality and have been more influenced by Quakerism/Quaker community and being in relationship with spirit.
In the Quaker faith, we speak of continuing revelation; what does that look like for spoken word poetry?
This is a great question. Sometimes I feel like I am writing poetry, but more often, it feels like when someone is moved to speak on Sunday morning but maybe not always to the point of rising for the message. It feels like energy moving through when it is in flow, and often when I read back after a few days, I don’t remember it as mine. If writing can be a spiritual practice, then it can be a practice to access testimony and truths that might be hard to find otherwise – the ways that messages from spirit are hard to hear when one is not making space to listen.
You can find their Button and SlamFind videos on YouTube. And follow their page on Instagram and Twitter, @puppet_mcfly.