City Cast

James Norman on Poetry for the People

Scott Dickensheets
Scott Dickensheets
Posted on July 18
Photo of James Norman catching ride on a train

Writer and editor James Norman doesn’t spend all of his time in Las Vegas. (James Norman)

In addition to being a master carpenter who travels constantly — he mostly lives in his van — James Norman is a talented poet whose new book, “A Monk With No Religion,” is just out from the Las Vegas-based Zeitgeist Press. He’s also helping Zeitgeist find, prepare, and publish new works.

Though you have deep ties to Las Vegas, you've also lived a very peripatetic life. How has that shaped your work?

“I guess traveling will humble you, and humility is the soul of art, and it will also put you in front of plenty of beautiful things, and beauty is the twinkle in the eye of art — so it keeps me motivated, having both forced upon me. It also guarantees me safe passage outside the bubble of my algorithm. Beggars can never be choosers, and necessity dictates I always land on hope, because I often rely on the kindness of strangers. I often see people at their best before I see them at their worst. It's the opposite on Twitter, I've heard. Sounds awful.”

You're now helping other writers get published through Zeitgeist Press. What kind of books do you want to bring into the world?

“Zeitgeist has a motto: ‘Poetry you can actually read.’ Often, that's poetry that isn't being written yet. I often try to talk my songwriter friends into it, traveling buddies, anyone who hasn't had their sense of curiosity dismantled by an MFA program. I want books that address the world we live in today, the way we are living in it, with the actual language we use to address each other. Stop verbing all the nouns, for Christ's sake. Poetry isn't a stylistic thing, it can't be cribbed together from card tricks; it's just a way of opening your eyes wide enough to take it all in at once. Sincerity is the heart, and without it, the blood simply stands still.”

Are there places in Las Vegas or things about this town that are good for your creativity?

“My poems usually have roots reaching into the margins of the livable world, like a shrub growing from rock in the side of a cliff. I used to bring them home a lot driving my motorcycle down Charleston after bartending at 4 in the morning. You see people who have been forgotten, and you try to redeem them, not religiously, but in the most pragmatically human sense. Also, I don't write cactus poems on principle, but I have to admit the desert helps ground my spirituality. Silence is key to understanding the world. The day I really shut up is the day you'll know I finally learned something. Obviously, it wasn't today.”

  • Pairs well with: Co-hosts Vogue Robinson and Dayvid Figler discuss the poetry scene in Las Vegas. [City Cast Las Vegas 🎧]
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