One of six children born to a North Dakota potato farmer who had lost the family farm early during the Depression, Roland Henry Flint spent his formative years working strenuous farm jobs. Such physically demanding work taught Flint toughness and discipline but also connected him to the cycles of the living earth, to its physical beauty and its harshness. After his first try at college proved unsuccessful, he enlisted in the Marines and served in Korea just after the war. Walking guard duty by an ammunition dump one Christmas night, he resolved with epiphanic clarity that when he returned stateside he would take college seriously. After earning his B.A. from the University of North Dakota-Grand Forks in 1958, where he wrote his first poems, he received his master’s degree from Marquette University in 1960 and then his doctorate from the University of Minnesota in 1968. He taught in both postgraduate positions, and he grew to love the dynamics of a classroom and the opportunity to explore the craft of writing with students. He joined the faculty of Georgetown University in 1968 and taught literature and creative writing with distinction, retiring in 1997.
Although he published poetry in journals for more than twenty years, he did not release his first volume until his early forties. Flint often quoted James Wright: “I want poetry to be beautiful, but if it doesn’t speak of the hell in our lives, it leaves me cold.” Although Flint’s poetry frequently centers on the simple joys of his daily life and the emotional support of his second wife, his two daughters, and his two stepsons, Flint drew from his own private pain to shape his most effective poetry, confessional meditations about growing up in rural poverty (including a suicide attempt at age fourteen) and the difficult relationship he maintained with his disciplinarian father; about his first marriage, which ended in divorce in 1973; and about the deaths of his brother and both his parents. However, the centering emotional trauma of Flint’s life was the 1972 death of his six-year-old son Ethan David, killed by a car. Although Flint was long reluctant to address directly questions about his son’s death, his poetry, whatever the subject, is centrally about that adjustment process. As he often advised his writing students, “Push it where it hurts. That’s where the poems are.” After retiring from Georgetown, Flint concentrated on his duties as Maryland’s poet laureate until his declining health forced him to resign that appointment in October, 2000. Almost three months later, he died of cancer at home at the age of sixty-six.