A connection to the transcendent

November 21, 1995|By Diane Scharper

ROLAND FLINT, Maryland's poet laureate, calls poetry the clearest evidence we have of the hungers of the soul.

Poems are not things we can eat, drink, scratch or make love to,'' he said. ''Poems satisfy a different longing. They connect us to the transcendent.''

That connection was evident last month when Dr. Flint's inaugural poem, ''Prayer,'' was given to Pope John II.

As a boy growing up in a devout Episcopal family in North Dakota, Dr. Flint did not plan to become a poet. Serving on the altar until he was 15 or 16, he planned to become a priest. He did not begin to write poetry until he was in college.

Divine office

During graduate studies at Marquette University, his involvement with poetry deepened. Here he wrote numerous papers on the Mass and on the divine office. These papers often inspired him to poetry.

''And Morning,'' his first book, published in 1975, contains many poems suggesting the religious origin of his work.

The first poem in the book, ''Skin,'' is a metaphor for transubstantiation (a doctrine stating that, during Mass, bread and wine become the body and blood of Christ):

Now I am grateful to my small poem

for teaching me this again:

that my God is still the moment

where the wood is no longer itself,

where the wine is no longer, only, itself.

Colleagues at Georgetown University, where 61-year-old Dr. Flint a professor of English, describe his poems as full of God.

''Prayer,'' a poem expressing gratitude to God, is an example.

In a sense, ''Prayer'' began in 1972, when Dr. Flint's 6-year-old son, Ethan (one of three children), was killed in a car accident. Dr. Flint mourned his son in several poems. Six years passed before Dr. Flint could look at what he had been through and still feel blessed.

As he was jogging

As he was jogging, he noticed how the trees receive light from the winter sun. Becoming almost euphoric, he wrote the poem, ''Jog'':

I'm jogging and realize I'm going to write a

poem called a morning prayer to almighty God to

go on blessing my life. . . .

A similar sense of euphoria occurs in ''Say It,'' also written at this time. The poet muses on his daily life and thanks God for inspiring him:

Then thank a mystery that speaks your name,

thank every trick in your ear, and listen.

As Dr. Flint ends the poem, he adds these lines in his journal -- literally writing the prayer that he implies in the poem:

''That's an ending by God to my book. What an ending by God. Thank you.''

But 14 years passed before Dr. Flint actually wrote a prayer poem In 1992, as he and his wife, Rosalind, were preparing to leave Rome and return to the United States, he sat down with his computer at 2 a.m. and composed ''Prayer.''

He revised it a year or so later -- first reading the poem for the St. Mary's County Literary Festival in 1993.

Two years later, Dr. Flint chose ''Prayer'' and several poems from his five volumes of poetry to submit to Maryland's poet laureate nominating committee. It chose him as Maryland's new poet laureate and ''Prayer'' as the inaugural poem.

On September 27, Dr. Flint read the poem at the State House in Annapolis and presented it to Governor Glendening and his wife, who presented the poem to the people of Maryland.

A poem in the window

Several days later, a poster-sized copy of ''Prayer'' was placed in the window of the Enoch Pratt Free Library, opposite the Basilica of the Assumption, so the pope might see it on his October 8

visit. Pope John Paul II, though, had been given the poem by Daniel Medinger, editor of the Catholic Review, the previous day. He received it warmly, saying that he too was a poet.

As a poet, the Holy Father knows that poetry is a connection to the transcendent. He would, therefore, surely notice the coincidence of a poem -- which is called ''Prayer,'' and which is a prayer -- being presented to one considered the vicar of Jesus Christ, during his historic papal visit to Maryland.

He would also notice the connections in these lines from the poem:

And so he repeated the Our Father

He said to himself before rising.

And feels a heartfelt thanks, Lord, For such poems as have come his way. . . .''


Diane Scharper teaches writing at Towson State University.

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