Leslie Norris Essay - Critical Essays

Norris, Leslie


Norris, Leslie 1921–

Norris is a Welsh poet, editor, playwright, short story writer, and translator of medieval Welsh verse. His purpose as a poet is, in his own words, "to recreate, not to describe." (See also Contemporary Authors, Vols. 11-12; Contemporary Authors Permanent Series, Vol. 1.)

John Fuller

Some of [the poems in Finding Gold] are bulked out with dull rhythms and language. He doesn't take short cuts enough, and is guilty of epithets ('brazen Africa', 'aching silences', etc.) that really needed a rethink. This said, he emerges as a very likeable new voice, fresh, elegiac, organized…. If he is sentimental sometimes, a little too eloquent perhaps, such defects are invariably smartened-up by neat observation and by touches of honesty that radiate thankfully in the rhetorical flow…. Norris can write, and though sometimes in danger of turning out the usual nature-notes, he communicates a real sense of life endured, of the flux tamed.

John Fuller, "Poetry: 'Finding Gold'," in London Magazine (© London Magazine 1967), Vol. 7, No. 3, July, 1967, p. 88.

Charles Molesworth

[Leslie Norris's] views are ordered, rhymed, and syntactically finished. Poems such as Old Voices and Early Frost almost overflow with the melodious streams of Dylan Thomas …, but even then control and reason dominate. The typical mode is that of a weakly affirmative reverie tried out before a landscape, though the best poem in the book, A True Death, is a strongly reassuring elegy for Vernon Watkins. There are twenty-three poems on thirty pages, with very little stanzaic or prosodic inventiveness…. The phrases here place the objects in a temporal and spatial setting which is a trifle too set-up. Personal space loses itself in the traditional poetic environment. (p. 111)

Charles Molesworth, "Some Locals," in Poetry (© 1972 by The Modern Poetry Association; reprinted by permission of the Editor of Poetry), Vol. CXX, No. 2, May, 1972, pp. 107-13.∗

Douglas Dunn

It is against a background such as the entrenchment of poetry in a previous tradition of thought about Nature that Leslie Norris's poem "Mountains Polecats Pheasants" has to be seen. It is elegiac, regretting the mortality of creatures and places before the encroachment of machines such as the motor car, which, in the poem, replace polecats as killers of pheasant. Norris's poem is reminiscent of William Stafford's American version of the subject in "Travelling Through the Dark." But the attitude is familiar in any case, from society as well as literature. Nature poets, and others concerned with countryside and animals, become the guardians of wildness. They seek to preserve what is accidental and given. It is unremarkable that ideas of age and origin and accident should be involved in a description of natural beauty; or that Norris should write that

                The wind
                Over my shoulder
                Blows from the cold of time,

attempting not only to dramatise the rudimentary presence of the elements as ongoing, but, in a poem about cromlechs or dolmens, mystifying the permanence of the past. For it is the fault of contemporary nature poetry that it springs backward in thought too easily, uttering a global nostalgia. And this is an intellectual and human fault. It represents a state of mind which finds it too difficult to work within existing society, and by doing so contribute to its change.

Douglas Dunn, "Books & Writers: 'Mountains, Polecats, Pheasants'," in Encounter (© 1974 by Encounter Ltd.), Vol. XLII, No. 4, April, 1974, p. 84.

Alan Brownjohn

Leslie Norris's personal seam of nature poetry is not a large one, but he works it with increasing sureness and pertinacity. In [Mountains, Polecats, Pheasants and other Elegies], he again emerges mainly as the ex-countryman for whom memories and sudden rediscoveries of country experience break in on the world of the indoors, or of mechanised civilisation, to bring regret at the increasing distance from us of the real world they represent. His best poems here—and they are very good indeed—come where he is poised between the harsh nature he reveres and the comforts he guiltily cherishes. 'Beachmaster' and 'Shadows' show him writing with splendid energy about marine and river life, too thoroughly immersed in what he is describing to be watching himself in case he is alienated from it by his indoor living. (p. 808)

Alan Brownjohn, "Scorch Marks," in New Statesman (© 1974 The Statesman & Nation Publishing Co. Ltd.), Vol. 87, No. 2255, June 7, 1974, pp. 808-09.∗

Roger Garfitt

What one misses, for most of Leslie Norris's … collection, Mountains Pheasants Polecats and other elegies, is the sense of tension creating a movement of style. Elegy can be a paradoxical form, possessing an adroitness in direct ratio to its emotive charge. As Auden proved, the more risks you take with it, the more passionate the balance you can finally achieve. So, here, the human elegies have more daring, and more weight: whereas those for vanishing life forms seem a little inhibited, rather consciously evenhanded.

Something in the form of long poems seems to over-extend them…. There is a cloying element in the diction, too: 'Black as nightfur', 'mortal stain', 'a fury of instinct'. The translations from the Welsh, however, have an energy that can carry the traditional phrasing: and in the shorter poems, particularly 'At Usk' and 'Stone and Fern', essentially the same formal approach, of repeated elements shaped into a cadence, works beautifully…. (pp. 117-18)

Roger Garfitt, "In Retreat to the Edges," in London Magazine (© London Magazine 1974), Vol. 14, No. 4, November, 1974, pp. 111-20.∗

Martin Levin

[The luminous short stories in Sliding] have the coherence of a novel. They are linked not by plot but by place and point of view. Most of them begin with a seemingly transient happening that signifies something much larger in the narrator's past. The title story, about a group of boys sliding on a frozen pond, captures the freshness of a first time experience and its bittersweet memory….

All of the stories spring from the soil of the Welsh countryside, where even trivia is given a special radiance…. The quintessential story of the book—"Cocksfoot, Crested Dog's Tail, Sweet Vernal Grass"—refers to the grasses that border the village cemetery. The names of these grasses summon up the...

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Ardis Kimzey

The poems [in Merlin & the Snake's Egg] show a great regard for the young mind. The work is elegant, accessible, interesting and fresh in narration and content.

The range of the book is in itself an accomplishment. Singing trees weave lyric dreams, while the Winter Witch casts spells that "fill the dying year with the forest's moan." A strong mysticism and a mythic quality permeate the title poem….

[The] poems are never abstract and never maudlin, but always alert to the "human beingness" of the situation…. (p. 25)

Ardis Kimzey, "Living Poets Are Coming Back," in The New York Times Book Review (© 1978 by The New York...

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