It makes sense that poet Daje Morris moved from writing poems in middle school to performing them in young adulthood, even if it took her a while to get there. After all, she was first moved to write by a performance, and then by a performer.
"Oddly enough, I was inspired to start writing after watching Anne of Green Gables for the first time," Morris says. "I think I was like 10 or 11, and there's a part in the movie where she is orating a poem called 'The Highwayman' by Alfred Noyes. I would rewind that part over and over again and listen to her. I think that was the moment when I thought I wanted to try that. So I started memorizing poems like 'Jabberwocky' and 'The Raven.'"
While in high school, Morris discovered a book of poems by an artist primarily known as a singer/songwriter.
"I started picking up books of poems at the library, and one of them, called Tears for Water, was by Alicia Keys," Morris says. "I read that book, and that's when I started going beyond writing about springtime or fictitious stories. I wrote down my own emotions and raw memories in my poems."
Morris evolved, channeling her own experiences and emotions into her work, but it took a while to get comfortable with the idea of spoken-word.
"I never tried performance poetry until college," she says, "because I never saw myself as a spoken-word artist."
Morris says that there is often a softness in the poetry she wrote that was meant to be read rather than performed. But after working up the courage to go to an open-mic night, she was hooked.
"When you communicate through poetry, it's often a way to communicate things more softly and with more nuance," she says. "But with spoken-word poetry, it just felt like a safe place in a world where I didn't often feel safe expressing anger or frustration out loud. In the beginning, I had this sort of 'cheerful black girl' mentality, and I didn't want to ruffle feathers. In spoken-word poetry, it became safe for me to express things that felt really urgent and raw; it was an art form that had the space for those things."
After that open-mic night, Morris was contacted by Rhea Carmon, the creator and executive director of a literary collective called 5th Woman. The collective focuses on encouraging women to express themselves and share their experiences through a combination of spoken word and other art forms.
Morris became a member of 5th Woman, eventually rising to the position of creative director and publishing a book called On Becoming Gold.
While with 5th Woman, Morris pioneered a workshop called "The Practice of Poetry."
"I wanted to create a meditative way of approaching spoken-word poetry so that women who had stories to tell could approach it in a safe way," she says. "It's a workshop model that teaches people a framework to write for their self-care; a workshop to teach you how to explore the things that you feel and put them on the page; how to breathe through words and writing and be brave about your own creative expression."
Morris will be in town at the Miller Gallery this weekend, both for a reading and to lead a "Practice of Poetry" workshop.
For Morris, the idea behind "The Practice of Poetry" really took shape while she was in therapy after a traumatic divorce.
"My therapist was taking a look at the practices I had taken on as coping mechanisms," she says. "One of them being music, the other being journaling, where I was writing a lot of poetry just to process pain. My therapist recommended that I intentionally use it to heal certain memories."
Morris used her journaling and poetry to take a deep dive not just into her mind, but the reactions elicited by difficult memories.
"I explored the thoughts that were coming out onto the page and excavating what was there in the poetry," she says, "so that I could better understand those thoughts and in turn heal. 'The Practice of Poetry' is an external manifestation of that process."