BYU professor an international man of poetry



    His poetry is just like his accent — endearing, lyrical and leaves the listener wanting to hear more.

    Leslie Norris, humanities professor of creative writing and poet in residence, has been sharing his insights and wisdom about poetry for the past 15 years and is one of BYU’s most coveted assets.

    Norris’ poems and short stories receive international acclaim and are continually being published in such prestigious publications as “The New Yorker” and “Atlantic Monthly”. Norris has also received the Katherine Mansfield Triennial Award, an award that is given for the short story that over a three-year period is thought to be the best in the English language.

    With so much acclaim, prestige and recognition, people often wonder how BYU managed to capture such a prize.

    His first encounter with BYU began 20 years ago when he came to the campus to participate in a summer writers’ workshop. Norris said he came to the workshop because while teaching at the University of Washington, he became good friends with one of his graduate students who was a former BYU student.

    “I came because it was interesting and I like going to new places,” Norris said. “I stayed because the faculty was more than kind, more than friendly, more than supportive and the students were super.”

    It was 15 years ago when Norris began teaching at BYU, and since that time, he has developed a reputation among faculty and students as being the best at what he does.

    “Leslie Norris is one of the oldest legends in the English Department,” said Meagan Brunson, 21, a senior from Houston majoring in public relations and one of Norris’ students. “When he teaches I feel like he really knows the poets.”

    Norris’ accomplishments have not gone unnoticed at BYU as a documentary about his life is currently being produced.

    Last summer, a three-person film crew from KBYU went with Norris to his hometown in Wales to shoot a documentary about his experiences growing up and how these experiences influenced his art, said Jim Bell, one of the documentary’s producers at KBYU.

    “We went to many different places of his childhood, like the school he attended and the farmhouse where he grew up,” Bell said.

    The documentary is predicted to be broadcast in mid summer, Bell said.

    Anyone looking through one of Norris’ 30 books of poetry and stories will notice nature as one of his most dominant themes.

    “I’m from a farming family and I always thought of the natural world as the nearest thing to the permanent world,” Norris said. “I agree with the poets who saw the natural world as God’s promise to us of what eternity will be like, except it will be perfect.”

    Many other poets use their poems as a medium for teaching morals or lessons to the readers, but Norris says it is not his job to teach, but to discover.

    “I’m certainly not going to tell anybody how to feel or what’s good or what’s bad. I try to make the poem as clear as possible, so if there is anything in it, people discover it for themselves,” Norris said.

    Instead of searching out inspiration and material for his poems like some other poets do, Norris says he lets the poems come to him.

    “I can’t sit down to write a poem because when a poem comes, I must be in a state of receptivity. It’s as if you can understand everything and see everything,” Norris said.

    To be receptive to poems that may come to him, Norris said he practices writing every day.

    “It’s just like a pianist. If the greatest pianists don’t practice every day, they fail. I am always practicing so when the poem comes along, I am ready,” Norris said.

    Even as a small boy, Norris was practicing the art of poetry.

    “I was writing poetry as soon as I could write and was making up poetry before I could write,” Norris said.

    Norris says he believes that poetry is the essence of language use.

    “Language would not exist without poetry. It couldn’t be preserved and it would not be memorable. Language is the one skill we have which makes us human,” Norris said.

    Norris said he believes “every art form is an attempt to achieve some kind of permanence, some kind of defeat of time because our words will last longer than we do.”

    When asked what his plans for future are, Norris just smiles and says, “Write.”

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