Daje Morris got married at a young age and was dealing with a divorce by the time she was in her early 20s.
Struggling with a lack of self-identity and escaping from an emotionally abusive relationship, she turned to words, pouring out her emotions onto paper as a way of exploring how she felt and discovering who she really was — without her ex-husband.
It turns out the poet and songwriter from Knoxville, Tenn., had a lot to say. She graduated from a journal of haphazard but heartfelt poetry and scribbled song lyrics to a poetry open mic night in 2016, where she was approached by The 5th Woman, a collective of poets who seek to support women in all of their expressions.
She became the creative director and event coordinator for a stint.
"It showed me the power of my voice and writing," Morris says.
Meanwhile, she continued to explore her feelings through poetry and songwriting, performing at more open mic nights and getting more comfortable with expressing and sharing her story through music and spoken word.
"I think it was really cathartic," Morris recalls her initial plunge into writing. "I wanted to feel like I was being intentional about my own life again and feel a sense of shamelessness after being shamed by someone I loved every day."
She didn't avoid the uncomfortable subject matter either. She embraced her feelings of sadness, of worthlessness, of pain.
"If you can't find joy / in the constellations falling / from your own lips / or love the way your skin / holds onto of the mem'ries / that have carved a backbone inside you / or embrace how your laughter coats the insides of your own throat / if you can't be good enough for you / then you will become lost," she writes in her poem titled "you may never be good enough for some people."
When it comes to music, Morris blends R&B, jazz and folk into vulnerable ballads reminiscent of some of her icons: Billie Holiday, Valerie June and Corinne Bailey Rae.
And when she sits down to write, she says she often doesn't know whether a poem or song will emerge. She has to wait and see where the inspiration takes her.
"It’s more like I sit down to get my thoughts out and will have my tools in front of me: my guitar and pen," Morris says. "If I feel a melody, I’ll pick up the guitar, and if I don’t but just feel a gush of words, I’ll pick up the pen."
Morris says she feels so much all the time and has been navigating what that's like in a world she describes as "numb," where people are shutting off their emotions and tuning in to social media and other platforms as a means of distraction.
And the more Morris says she read other traditional poetry, the more she realized that she was craving deeper meaning, riveting stories, the raw emotions that keep us all connected.
"I don’t want to read any more poems about flowers, about the mountains and the birds," Morris says. "I want to read stories like mine and listen to stories like mine, because those are what can make me feel a little less alone in the world."
Morris recently shaved her head as a physical expression of a longing toward connecting with her history and her ancestors. That's a yearning she expresses, among several other personal topics, in her poetry.
Morris published her debut poetry collection "On Becoming Gold" in 2017. She'll be reading some of the poems from that book in Charleston at Miller Gallery at 149-1/2 East Bay Street for a two-day performance and workshop event.
The free reading will take place from 6-7 p.m. July 26, and the $25 workshop, titled "The Practice of Poetry," will take place from 10 a.m.-noon July 27. The focus is on writing for self-care and the practice of presence.
It's a writing workshop and discussion series for those seeking to build a meditative wellness practice; for those who want to write poetry but might feel shy about beginning to explore their own emotions and putting them down on paper.
"It definitely doesn’t teach anyone how to write poetry or be a great poet," Morris says. "It's about ripping off the Band-Aid and allowing us to ... be brave enough to engage with ourselves and see who we are and own our stories."
A moleskin notebook, pen and coffee will be provided to all who purchase workshop tickets.
"I just want to create a space for beauty and all of its messiness," Morris says.