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Flint, Roland (Henry)

FLINT, Roland (Henry)


Nationality: American. Born: Park River, North Dakota, 27 February 1934. Education: University of North Dakota, Grand Forks, 1952–58, B.A. 1958; Marquette University, Milwaukee, Wisconsin, 1958–60, M.A. 1960; University of Minnesota, Minneapolis, 1960–68, Ph.D. 1968. Military Service: U.S. Marine Corps, 1954–56: Corporal; National Service medal. Family: Married 1) Janet Altic in 1962 (divorced 1973), two daughters and one son; 2) Rosalind Cowie in 1979. Career: Teaching assistant, Marquette University, Milwaukee, Wisconsin, 1959–60; teaching assistant and instructor, University of Minnesota, Minneapolis, 1960–68. Assistant professor, 1968–75, associate professor, 1975–81, and professor of English, 1981–86, Georgetown University, Washington, D.C. Since 1997 retired. Member, Board of Directors, Poetry Society of America, 1984–86. Awards: National Endowment for the Arts Discovery grant, 1970, fellowship, 1981; Corcoran Gallery award in poetry, 1976; Stanley Young fellow in poetry, Bread Loaf Writer's Conference, 1981; Silver Medalist, Council for Advancement and Support of Education's National Professor of the Year award, 1987; Maryland State Arts Council grant, 1989, 1993; National Poetry Series selection, 1989, for Stubborn; Maxwell Anderson award, University of North Dakota, 1993; Poet Laureate of Maryland Designate, 1995. Honorary Doctorates: North Carolina Wesleyan College, Rocky Mount, 1986; University of North Dakota, 1996. Address: 9819 Haverhill Drive, Kensington, Maryland 20895, U.S.A.

Publications

Poetry

And Morning. Washington, D.C., Dryad Press, 1975.

The Honey and Other Poems for Rosalind (chapbook). Huntington, West Virginia, Unicorn, 1976.

Say It. Washington, D.C., Dryad Press, 1979.

Resuming Green: Selected Poems, 1965–1982. New York, Dial Press, 1983.

Sicily (chapbook). Rocky Mount, North Carolina, North Carolina Wesleyan College Press, 1987.

Stubborn. Urbana, University of Illinois Press, 1990.

Hearing Voices, with William Stafford. Salem, Oregon, Willamette University Press, 1991.

Pigeon. Rocky Mount, North Carolina, North Carolina Wesleyan College Press, 1991.

Pigeon in the Night (in Bulgarian and English). Sofia, Fakel Press, 1994.

Easy. Baton Rouge, Louisiana State University, 1999.

Other

Translator, with Betty Grinburg, Words and Graphite by Boris Christov. Varna, Andina Publishing House, 1991.

Translator, with Betty Grinburg and Lyubomir Nikolov, Wings of the Messenger by Boris Christov. Sofia, Petrikoff Publications, 1991.

Translator, with Vyara Tcholakova, Pagan by Lyubomir Nikolov. Pittsburgh, Carnegie-Mellon Press, 1992.

*  *  *

Roland Flint's poetry is the sort a reader returns to, peeling back layer after layer, to reach the heart of the work, which also often turns out to be the heart of the matter. These are affecting poems, ones that stubbornly persist in having their way with the reader.

Although Flint taught for many years at Georgetown University, his poems, as represented in the collection Stubborn, are not academic exercises. For instance, even "Late September, Early Morning," which seems at first to fit into a conventional mode—the academic poet gently spoofing himself, writing poetry with a look over his shoulder at his reputation—becomes more than that. Here the collection's title resurfaces like a motif: "But something stubborn wants him scribbling daily, / even if it is the only thing to write about." The italicized "it" seems at this point, early in the book, to refer to the process of writing poetry. In retrospect, "it" also seems to refer to the wound that persists in opening time and again in these poems: the death of a son.

At times even the syntax of the poems appears to mirror the title's theme of stubbornness. Flint begins a thought, interrupts it, and then returns abruptly to the first thought, as in the ending of "Black Sea, Mother and Son":

   as if she were beginning
   a morning summers and summers
   ago in Sicily or Greece or
   Mesopotamia,
               hung with olive and
   lemon and pepper and grape
   and blood orange,
   but it is
   ordinary hillside
   on the Balkan peninsula
   north of Varna and south of
   Zlatni Pyasetsi,
   as it was a thousand
   years ago or yesterday.

Like most good poets, he twists and reshapes language to his own needs. What happens to his heart and mind happens to the language as both wrestle with the loss of his son.

Although he addresses the process of writing poetry, his poems do not step back to distance themselves from the reader. The shifts in focus are to get a sharper view. The poet is after dangerous, raw stuff, returning to earlier memories that ground the poems in a dual sense of love and loss, not merely recovering the past but also re-creating it to see what wisdom has come with time and reflection.

The grouping of the poems suggests a reaching for emotional roots. The first section, entitled "Home," contains the poem "Nocturne," in which the poet as a boy overhears his parents making love in the middle of the night and as the man writing the poem considers what this event meant then and means in the present. Further into the book, the various poems cut a passage through time, with other section titles like "Measures" and "Anniversaries" underscoring this technique. On the journey Flint stops often to check his pulse, that constant wrist chronometer, with a poem to measure where he is at a particular age compared to others he remembers who have passed that point and gone through that opening in time before him. The following three excerpts, from "Nocturne," "Rosemary," and "Pamela, on February 8, 1982," respectively, illustrate this:

   When he hears for sure, awake,
   though he's never heard it before,
   he knows at once: his parents making love.
   He's 14 or 15, his father 44 or 45,
   his mother a year younger,
   and now, when he remembers it,
   he's older than they all were—50.
 
 
   And what have we become—in 1989?
   If I'm fifty-five you're fifty-three!
   But memory still fixes your
   small hands and avid mouth on me.
 
 
   And she bears him with her still
   on her birthday, feeling as I do
   how old the boy is too this year …
   To wish her uncomplicated happy birthdays
   would be to wish the boy alive or out of thought …

This is strong stuff, poetry that sometimes used to be called "confessional," drawing its strength from the sort of pain that nourishes W.D. Snodgrass's Heart's Needle or Robert Lowell's Life Studies. It is also like the work of the fine writer Flint celebrates in "Jim," James Wright. The central wound, the pain the poems keep returning to, is the death, at age ten, of the poet's son. Through his poetry Flint seeks a way of accepting, of living with, this terrible loss, as in "What I Have Tried to Say to You":

   Our lives are what they have been: unrevisable,
   changed only in our responses,
   if we are still ready, somehow,
   for the next day, the next
   person, poem, chance, even prepared,
   however unready, for the next death.
   Can we permanently grieve the boy
   without hating what has become of him?
   What has become of him?
   He has returned to mystery,
   the same one that is our life.

—Duane Ackerson

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