Roland Flint’s Resuming Green, the poet’s first hardcover volume, is a sometimes moving, occasionally beautiful, and often exasperating book. Flint has been gathering a considerable reputation among poets and aficionados of poetry during the past decade through publication of his poems in literary journals and in two collections from Dryad Press, one of the better small presses in the country. Twenty-seven of the forty-seven poems in Resuming Green are reprinted from the two paperbound Dryad volumes, And Morning (1975) and Say It (1979). Flint writes in an unembarrassed, straightforward, homely way about emotionally charged themes: about difficult relations between fathers and their children, about the loss of two of his children (a son through death and a daughter, the dead boy’s twin, through divorce from their mother), and about the finally joyful attempt, as a person and as a poet, to rebuild a life—resuming green, so to speak—with another woman.
Flint works hard throughout Resuming Green to defuse the potential for sentimentality in his materials. He does not always succeed, but clearly the unadorned, prosy style of much of Resuming Green represents the effort to tell things truly, to head off the risk that a more tricked out, more ornate, more metaphorical rhetoric might lead to false magnifications of feeling. More than a quarter of the poems in the volume (fourteen of the forty-seven) are prose poems. These pieces recurrently sound like the prose of Ernest Hemingway, as in this paragraph from “Rosalind October”: “And now the old flower vendor calls out to me: these are nice, she says—yes, I’ll take them; and these are nice—I’ll take them too; and so are these—fine, I’ll take them.” One of the best poems in the collection, “The Green for Pamela,” is similarly Hemingwayesque. The poem begins with a matter-of-fact report of an almost unspeakably painful phase in the life of the persona’s lost family: “After she had witnessed and somehow survived her twin brother’s death, my daughter Pamela and I would lie across the bed, staring out the window. . . .” The second and third paragraphs recall the more evocative moments in A Farewell to Arms (1929) and A Moveable Feast (1964):When the streetlights came on, it was different, and beautiful still: the leaves, resuming green, were on our side of the lamp, the light lighting the tree and shining through to us, like daytime—cleaner, though, and greener.
But it was best just before the lights came on: we would be there and talk and wait for a little dark and a little wind to make the trees move and sough and whisper as they rearranged the human faces and animal shapes of night—an elephant nodding, a dog wagging or leaping, Mr. Bishop’s face in Mr. Bishop’s tree.
The same sort of plain style dominates in many of the pieces that are set up as verse on the page. For example, here is the first stanza of “Skin,” a poem prefatory to the entire volume:
If the wood is good grain,And the carpenter, the fit, the caulking,The cask will be goodAnd if the grapes are goodThe wood and the wineWill improve each other,In the dark long days of aging.
The diction, the syntax, the repetitions—all are simple and unadorned in an insistent, even a studied fashion. Although Flint has gone to school with William Blake, William Butler Yeats, and Theodore Roethke (on whom he wrote his doctoral dissertation in 1968), and although here and there in Resuming Green (in at least two poems, at any rate) he displays densely meta-morphical, rhymed poems, for the most part he writes in the flat understated mode of James Wright (who was also published by Dryad, incidentally) and many other Midwestern poets.
The one palpably poetic effect in the first stanza of “Skin” is the order of adjectives in the closing line, “dark long days” standing out as an inversion of “long dark days,” a more predictable pattern. Perhaps “long dark days” seemed to the poet to verge on cliché, but...
(The entire section is 1,833 words.)