News: Welsh Poet and Retired BYU Professor Leslie Norris Dies

The Welsh poet and educator Leslie Norris suffered a massive stroke and died April 6th at 9:30 p.m. He was eighty-five years old.

Leslie Norris was born in the Welsh mining town of Merthyr Tydfil. A man of remarkable sensibilities, he felt life intensely very early on and began writing poetry as a boy. In his teens he spent hours in the company of such famous Welsh poets as Vernon Watkins and Dylan Thomas. Eventually his own poetry became world-renowned; at one time he was a candidate for poet laureate of England.

As Leslie passed out of his teens, practical considerations required his choosing a career over writing poetry. His life as an educator took off, but the more promotions he received the more distant he felt from students and from the joy writing gave him. Eventually Leslie reached a crossroads: he had to decide whether he was a poet or an educator. He began to re-engineer his career to allow him to escape from the walled world of school administration and return to a musical and meaningful relationship with words, where he felt happier and engaged. Also, Leslie needed to be with students; his advancements up the administrative ladder had robbed him of that.

In the “˜70s he accepted an invitation to teach at the University of Washington. I remember him first coming to BYU for the Rocky Mountain Writer’s Convention during that time. One way or another he was invited to teach at BYU and in 1983 took a six-month position he found very agreeable. BYU was smart enough to ask him to stay longer, naming him its poet-in-residence. The relationship between Leslie and BYU continued till the end of his life.

Leslie was not a Mormon but his influence in the Utah and Mormon literary community during those twenty plus years has been an inestimable gift. He guided and inspired many Mormon writers in the throes of developing their craft, myself among them. Besides his gifts in language Leslie possessed qualities sometimes thought antithetical to the stereotypical brooding poet–qualities such as kindness, clarity, and wisdom. Leslie’s writing and physical presence have always seemed to me completely approachable and wholly unaffected.

As more details become available I’ll post them in updates. Also I hope over the next few days to put up a post of personal remembrances of Leslie Norris. At that time AMV will invite any of our readers who have also known him to tell their own stories.

8 thoughts on “News: Welsh Poet and Retired BYU Professor Leslie Norris Dies”

  1. He was one of my favorite teachers. To this day I remember him reading Keats’ Ode to Autumn to us in his Welsh-accented English. When he finished, he said, “That is a perfect poem.” When a student asked what he meant, he responded, “There is not a word in the poem that can be improved by changing it.”

    Through his instruction, I began to attune my ear and mind to poetry. Prior to that class, I had lacked the woodcraft to enter the forest.
     

    Posted by greenfrog

  2. My husband, Neal Bonham, and I heard Leslie read a poem called “Hudson’s Geese”, at a reading at the University of Washington. We were so totally enamored of this poem that we requested permission to make a broadside of it, and that is how we started our collaboration. A Tree Sequence, published in 1983, by our press was what inspired Neal to make his first shaded watermark in handmade paper. Leslie Norris was always patience itself as we labored over the handset type, letterpress process of producing a handmade book. He is missed.

  3. Thank you, Suzanne, for stopping by and commenting. “Hudson’s Geese” is a startlingly beautiful and stunning poem. Anybody interested in reading it may go here:

    http://deseretnews.com/article/1,5143,595056713,00.html

    Also interesting is Tyler Chadwick’s “Hudson’s Geese: Reprise” in the Spring 2006 issue of Irreantum. Tyler dedicates the poem to Leslie.

    The BYU Creative Works Catalogue offers a CD of Leslie reading several of his poems, “Hudson Geese” among them. Recordings like these make it easier to bear his loss, so much of his soul shone in his voice.

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