Roland Flint Essay - Critical Essays


The achievement of Roland Flint’s poetry is its remarkable accessibility. Although he was a career academic (teaching for more than thirty years at Georgetown University), Flint’s poetry is not marked by the heavy-handed intellectual embroidery, lexical experimenting, obscure symbols, and erudite allusions that put so much contemporary poetry out of reach of a large audience. Reflecting perhaps his rural upbringing on the Great Plains or his early dissatisfactions with higher education (he dropped out of college his first try), Flint’s poetry is, as he often described it, “user-friendly,” poetry intended to be read within public forums rather than treated to classroom analysis. During his five-year stint as Maryland’s poet laureate, Flint worked tirelessly to bring poetry to audiences across his state not often exposed to it: rural schools, retirement homes, prisons, business clubs, private homes, and even local cable and national talk show audiences. With a rich, engaging voice, he was known for spellbinding readings. Because his poetry itself celebrates the ordinary miracles of daily life as well as the pain and the wonder drawn from Flint’s own emotional experiences, audiences are compelled by such honesty and directness. By forsaking the posture of imperial poet, Flint imbues his poetry with a most affective intimacy and vulnerability.

Not surprisingly, such intimacy is achieved via a poetic line that dispenses with the intrusive play of anticipated rhythm and strict rhyme. What Flint offers instead is a blank-verse line that sounds its musical best when read aloud in subtle manipulations of sound and line length that create a sophisticated pace to poetry that sounds deceptively simple, even conversational. He often described his work as “common feelings captured in uncommon language,” poetry within the colloquial range that defined the midcentury work of poets such as Theodore Roethke (the subject of Flint’s doctorate), James Wright (a friend and colleague at the University of Minnesota), and William Stafford (an early mentor and eventual collaborator).

And Morning

Roland Flint’s first collection, And Morning, is haunted by what he does not directly treat: the death of his son (the title puns on morning/mourning). Flint acknowledges only that on reaching midlife, he finds himself “broken, permanently/ in some ways I did not devise/ and may not speak of.” The poems are each pressured by time, by the perplexing drama of mortality and the quick moment of translation from presence to absence. Deaths and funerals, illness and accidents, violence and bad luck haunt the narrative line of poem after poem. “Heads of the Children” recalls the verbal abuse of Flint’s father and the anger Flint himself directed at his own son—it is the unspoken pain of the poem that the reader understands that this recollection is part of the grieving process of the father for his now-dead son. Flint speaks of his need for consolation, for his Christian upbringing to give logic to events that appear to be paradoxically both shattering and pointless. A preacher, he says, “just opens his mouth/ and there is that parabola/ draining into peace.” However, Flint’s poetry refuses the simple surrender to grief. The collection moves in its two stunning closing poems to solutions. In “Wheel,” Flint observes his wife and daughter awkwardly fashion a gift-cup for him out of clay and compares such a clumsy process to his own writing and argues that in language he has found a way to fashion, perhaps awkwardly, moments of clarity from painful experience. In the simple quatrain of the volume’s closing poem, “And Morning In,” Flint offers a simple image: a rooster on a fence post crowing to the sunrise, “I’m up again/ and so are you,” a strategy of embracing each morning as opportunity despite (or perhaps because of) the knowledge of mortality. It is Flint’s characteristic achievement to draw from the natural world an accessible image that so easily becomes a suggestive symbol.

Say It

As the bold title suggests, the poems gathered in Say It refuse self-pity and negotiate strategies for adjusting to the bewildering time-bound world defined in And Morning. Each piece is cast in straightforward and undecorated blank verse, the language accessible and immediate. For the first time, Flint directly treats the death of his son, but the emphasis here is on recovery and spiritual resurrection. In “Shim,” Flint recounts sharing a drunken embrace with a woman, a stranger at a wedding reception. Although he discounts the possibility of any affair, he calls the embrace an act of love that caught them both at an inexplicable moment of mutual need, and he reassures the woman, “today I’m here to give you balance.” The title itself refers to a home-repair process of filling cracks, usually with putty. Restoring fractures metaphorically relates to the repair work Flint is undertaking on his heart.

Other poems celebrate the...

(The entire section is 2061 words.)