Nationality: Welsh. Born: Merthyr Tydfil, Glamorgan, 21 May 1921. Education: Cyfthfa Castle School, 1931–38; City of Coventry College, 1947–49; University of Southampton (Ralph Morley prize, 1958), 1955–58, Dip.Ed., M. Phil., 1958. Military Service: Royal Air Force, 1940–42. Family: Married Catherine Mary Morgan in 1948. Career: Teacher, Grass Royal School, Yeovil, Somerset, 1948–52; deputy head, Southdown School, Bath, 1952–55; head teacher, Aldingboume School, Chichester, 1955–58; principal lecturer in degree studies, College of Education, Bognor Regis, Sussex, 1958–73; visiting lecturer, University of Washington, Seattle, 1973, 1980, 1981; resident poet, Eton College, 1977; Arts Council writing fellow, West Sussex Institute of Higher Education, 1979–80. Since 1983 Humanities professor of creative writing, Brigham Young University; Provo, Utah. Awards: Welsh Arts Council award, 1967, 1968, 1980, 1989 (senior fiction award), and prize, 1978; Alice Hunt Bartlett prize, 1970; Cholmondeley prize, 1979; David Higham prize, for fiction, 1980; Katherine Mansfield award, 1981; John Hughes prize, 1991. Fellow, Royal Society of Literature, 1962, and Welsh Academy, 1990. D.Litt: University of Glamorgan, 1994. D.H.L.: Brigham Young University, 1996. Agent: Charles Schlessiger, Brandt and Brandt, 1501 Broadway, New York, New York 10036. Address: 849 South Carterville Road, Orem, Utah 84058, U.S.A.
Tongue of Beauty. London, Favil Press, 1941.
Poems. London, Falcon Press, 1946.
The Ballad of Billy Rose. Leeds, Northern House, 1964.
The Loud Winter. Cardiff, Triskel Press, 1967.
Finding Gold. London, Chatto and Windus, 1967.
Curlew. St. Brelade, Jersey, Armstrong, 1969.
Ransoms. London, Chatto and Windus, 1970; Newtown, Powys, Gwasg Gregynog, 1987.
His Last Autumn. Rushden, Northamptonshire, Sceptre Press, 1972.
Mountains, Polecats, Pheasants and Other Elegies. London, Chatto and Windus, 1973.
Stone and Fern. Winchester, Southern Arts Association, 1973.
At the Publishers'. Berkhamsted, Hertfordshire, Priapus, 1976.
Ravenna Bridge. Knotting, Bedfordshire, Sceptre Press, 1977.
Islands Off Maine. Cranberry Isles, Maine, Tidal Press, 1977.
Merlin and the Snake's Egg. New York, Viking Press, 1978.
Hyperion. Knotting, Bedfordshire, Sceptre Press, 1979.
Water Voices. London, Chatto and Windus—Hogarth Press, 1980.
Walking the White Fields: Poems 1967–1980. Boston, Little Brown, 1980.
A Tree Sequence. Seattle, Spring Valley Press, 1984.
Selected Poems. Bridgend, Glamorgan, Poetry Wales Press, 1986.
Sequences. Layton, Utah, Gibbs Smith, 1988.
Norris's Ark. Portsmouth, New Hampshire, Tidal Press, 1988.
A Sea in the Desert. Bridgend, Glamorgan, Seren, 1989.
Collected Poems. Bridgend, Glamorgan, Seren, 1996.
Recording: Poems, with Dannie Abse, Argo, 1974.
Sliding. New York, Scribner, 1976; London, Dent, 1978.
The Girl from Cardigan. Bridgend, Glamorgan, Seren, and Layton, Utah, Gibbs Smith, 1988.
Collected Stories. Bridgend, Glamorgan, Seren, 1996.
Glyn Jones. Cardiff, University of Wales Press, 1973.
Editor, Vernon Watkins 1906–1967. London, Faber, 1970.
Editor, Andrew Young: Remembrance and Homage. Cranberry Isles, Maine, Tidal Press, 1978.
Editor, The Mabinogion, translated by Lady Charlotte Guest. London, Folio Society, 1980.
Manuscript Collection: National Library of Wales, Aberystwyth.
Critical Studies: By Sam Adams, in Poetry Wales (Cardiff), 1972; R. Jenkins, in Anglo-Welsh Review (Pembroke Dock), 1972; Ted Walker, in Priapus (Berkhamsted, Hertfordshire), 1972; Norman Rosenfeld, in Tar River Poetry (Greenville, North Carolina), 1983; Leslie Norris by James Davies, Cardiff, University of Wales Press, 1989; An Open World: Essays on Leslie Norris edited by Eugene England and Peter Makuck, Columbia, South Carolina, Camden House, 1994.
Leslie Norris comments:
My poetry is an attempt to re-create, not to describe. The birds or animals or people or buildings or trees existing in my poems must exist root, branch, claw, skin, and stone. The texture of my words must be made of feathers or bones, bark or whatever; the lines must move with real muscle. I think I am a Jungian poet, bringing up the images from some unknown source. The poems come unbidden, and my task is to recognize them; often I am well toward the end of a poem before I know what it is "about." But afterwards I work with unremitting labor to make sure of the poem's clarity, to make its surface perfect. I think my poems ought to be like onions, the golden outer skin flawless, the weight surprisingly heavy, solid, much more than you would expect. Then when the outer skin is peeled, there is a moist, pearly inner layer of meaning, then another and another.
Somewhere in the process you might begin to weep.
(1995) More recently I am involved in writing a long autobiographical poem.* * *
Leslie Norris's birth at Wern Farm, just outside Merthyr Tydfil, Wales's Klondike of the nineteenth century, and his subsequent residence in southern England together provided the cultural tension that, after a long silence, generated his poetry of the 1960s and made it something quite different from the early work in Tongue of Beauty. The gap is bridged, of course, by Norris's fascination with and power over words, but the Merthyr to which he could never go back, which was, in the spirit of his youth and that of other writers his seniors, quite dead, was the source of many elegies. This was the case in Finding Gold in particular, which was an expression both of the irrecoverability of his own youth and of a more general irrecoverability ("And yes, those boys are gone"). It was not that he could not return to Wales—he did that, first with holidays in Cardiganshire and then by the purchase of his cottage Wthan—but what his residence in England did was to make it possible to approach the Welsh heritage in a way that would have been strange to the Merthyr-bound man. It also linked and contrasted the peaceful rurality of Sussex with the more wayward and half-tamed spirit of the countryside round Llandysul.
Perhaps Norris was always a man of the country, and his great achievement, visible more and more in books like Mountains, Polecats, Pheasants and other Elegies, has been to use the simple physical stimuli of a rural world to make poems no more than occasionally recondite and always couched in a language that accommodates images in the most natural manner possible and gives continuous pleasure. His syntax is rarely distorted or difficult. What he has evolved is that most difficult thing to master and obtain, a style that in its limpidity, clarity, and latent force carries the simple, the anecdotal, even the common experience and gives it an unexpected memorability. This quality is not confined to his poetry, for which he received the Cholmondeley prize in 1978; the ecstatic reception of his volume of short stories, Sliding—he was awarded both the David Higham prize and a Welsh Arts Council prize for the work—was the recognition of an achievement very similar.
Like Edward Thomas and, to a lesser extent, Andrew Young, Norris can conjure common observation into his own idiosyncratic mode. His recourse, even in later books, to boyhood memories of the boxing ring or of the collier's care for birds or dogs—or, more piercingly, to recollection of a classmate killed at Aberfan—provides the variety that makes his countryman's perception the more poignant. Norris is that rare poet who has made his work accessible without cheapening the experience of the poem or blunting its delicacy. In this sense he is an ambassador for poetry at the court of the general public in a generation that sorely needs one.