I hail from the wild, wild, west. Literally: I was born and raised in the farming community of Powell, Wyoming, situated about 22 miles east of Cody, Wyoming, and roughly 75 miles from the east gate of Yellowstone Park. I also hail from a long line of post-Civil War migrants, pioneers, scofflaws, and illegitimates; wherever there is a “bastard” break in the lineage, that’s my line of people.
What is the greatest thing about the place you call home?
Powell sits in The Big Horn Basin ringed by mountains: the Beartooth Range to the north, the Absaroka Range to the northwest, the Wind River Range to the south, and the Bighorn Mountains to the east. The contrasts are stunning: that cerulean sky against fresh white snow bedding meadows ringed with evergreens; open range against fenced acres; sage prairie next to irrigated emerald fields, high desert erupting into the Rocky Mountains, domestic herds grazing beside wild game; more antelope than people. It is a vast, rugged, unforgiving, and unforgettable place. Like no place on earth, they say.
What turns you on creatively?
Oddly, cold, gray, cloudy days inspire me. The air is dense, still, quiet, perfect for introspection. Autumn and Winter are my seasons. Out in nature, I explore, encounter, observe, breathe, touch, gather, absorb, and process for later use. I’m inspired by dreams, visions, psychic transformation, and particularly by observing people. More recently, gardening inspires me as it prompts me to reflect on the gardens of my mother, aunts, and grandmothers as well as the crop fields my father, uncles, and grandfathers produced each year. In Missouri, plants volunteer to grow, which is a whole new experience for me. That brings a greater appreciation for the tenacious labor required of my ancestors to coax growth from the rocky, silty, dry soil of Wyoming.
What is your favorite word, and can you use it in a poetic sentence?
English offers a veritable plethora of splendiferous words, too many to choose just one. I like to toss around the word superfluous just for fun. I once used the word Precambrian in a poem. A reviewer said, “Well, now you’re just showing off.” So, I tend to stick with the high vocabulary I learned from my Okie Grandmother: caterwaul, criminently, hoosegow, falderal, words that give spell check a hissy fit. I used several favorite words in a recently published poem titled “Hyperbola” (which is a fun word):
If we could graph this debacle/the whole hullabaloo resembles/a boxy dragonfly. . .
What is your pet peeve?
My greatest peeve is reading journalists and hearing newscasters who use bad grammar: “Less people showed up for the event.” I mean, c’mon! Writing and speaking is your JOB! At least represent as a decent role model. A more recent peeve is my office chair sounds like Chewbacca when I lean back.
That one I can fix with a spritz of W-D 40. Or a new chair.
What defines Shelly Norris?
The dreaded question one can’t really prepare for. I grew up defined by others as lazy, inattentive, and unmotivated. Also loud, obnoxious, and belligerent, which all seem redundant. Learning that I am ADD Inattentive Type explains most of those assignations. I’ve asked friends to help. One dear friend literally wrote my eulogy, and another came close, so we’ve got that out of the way for when the time comes. Those who know me best define me as insightful, tenacious, resilient, curious, intuitive, a fine supportive friend with a love of language and wine, known for extraordinary feats of cooking, and some say a deep soul with a heart of gold, which might be a stretch. Sounds braggy, but I’m just reporting what they said. Some see me as a woman of several talents and skills; I see myself as a practitioner of many crafts, master of none. I tend to define myself daily by all that I need to accomplish and all that I want to accomplish that I’m not accomplishing. My husband says I’m a pessimist; I say I’m a realist. I’m still reluctant to call myself a writer or a poet. Quite undisciplined. Yes, I’m definitely buying a new office chair.
Shelly Norris currently resides in the woods of central Missouri with her husband John, two dogs, and seven cats. A Wyoming native, Norris began writing poetry around the age of 12. As a single mother of three sons, Norris had to concentrate on achieving an education and beginning a career to sufficiently support the family. Early in this journey it became clear that pennies from publishing poetry would not feed and shod hungry barefoot boys, so she necessarily dedicated her time and energy to building a teaching career. Meanwhile, working in the shadows grading sub-par essays, and editing for other writers, she has been slow to send forth her own writings into the cold world of rejection and possible publication in obscure volumes. One who struggled furiously with the art-life balance, Norris knew her destiny to be—like Burroughs, Bukowski, Stevens, and Wilder—a more dedicated and widely published writer later in life. While pecking away at various essays, short stories, and a couple of novels, Norris is wrestling a pile of about 100 poems into cohesive chapbooks and manuscripts embodying the vicissitudes of unrequited love and loss, dysfunctional wounds, healing quests, and the role of cats in the universal scheme.