Dr. Roland Flint, 66, poet laureate of Md., literature professor

January 05, 2001|By Frederick N. Rasmussen | Frederick N. Rasmussen,SUN STAFF

Dr. Roland Flint, the former Maryland poet laureate whose lyrical reminiscences of ordinary events - such as the taste of a salty oyster - earned him wide acclaim, died Tuesday of cancer at his Kensington home. He was 66.

Dr. Flint was appointed poet laureate in 1995 and resigned in October because of health problems.

"The real reason is, I just thought I had served long enough. It's an honorary post, and why not let someone else have a chance?" he told The Sun at the time.

From 1968 until he retired in 1997, he taught creative writing and literature at Georgetown University in Washington.

"I love to teach, but 36 years is a lot of freshman papers," he told The Sun around the time he was appointed poet laureate by Gov. Parris N. Glendening. "I have a lot of stuff to do: a lot of reading, a lot of writing."

In the early-morning stillness, Dr. Flint would sit at his desk in his second-floor, book-lined study, writing poetry or recording his thoughts in a journal. The room overlooked the carefully tended garden where he often found inspiration.

His first collection of poetry, "And Morning," was published in 1975 and was followed by "Say It" in 1979. Later came "Resuming Green: Selected Poems 1965-1982," published by Dial Press; "Stubborn," a National Poetry Series selection; "Pigeon," "Pigeon in the Night" and "Easy," published by Louisiana State University last year.

He started writing poetry as an undergraduate at the University of North Dakota, where he earned his bachelor's degree in English in 1958. In 1960, he earned his master's degree from Marquette University and his doctorate from the University of Minnesota in 1968.

His doctoral dissertation was on Theodore Roethke, the American lyrical poet best known for the 1953 collection, "The Waking." Dr. Flint was greatly influenced by Roethke and by the socially conscious poetry of Ohio-born James Wright, who was a friend.

The death of Dr. Flint's 6-year-old son, Ethan, in 1972 also had a lasting and profound effect on his work.

"His work is totally absent of rage. He said that it was the difficult experiences that make us human, and there is a generosity and openness in that attitude, which is rare," said Michael Collier of Catonsville, director of the creative writing program at the University of Maryland, College Park.

"In his poem `Stubborn,"' said Mr. Collier, "he writes:

if it is given in grief accept it there,

where you may see whatever else is given.

"I was struck rereading Roland's poems how often he uses the phrase `Now, I'm grateful.' The core of his poems are like small prayers, and they have the attitude of prayers. He was really a secular poet who was able to find evidence of God's grace everywhere. There is a clarity in his poems that gives us courage in the face of what is so difficult," Mr. Collier said.

"He was a poet of great stature whose work had a certain egalitarian quality," said Clarinda Harriss, chairwoman of the English department at Towson University.

Writing recently to Dr. Flint's family, Phil Jason, professor of English at the Naval Academy, said, "Flint's great gift and subtle art was to speak in what seemed to be his own voice, and he was famous not only for the vitality and directness of his writing, but for his masterful performances of his poems, as well as the poems of others.

"Flint's poetry, always the expression of direct, profound emotion, addressed many issues. He loved to explore the frailties and surprising strengths of characters most would call `losers,' noting the capacity for nobility in unexpected places. He celebrated the ordinary miracles of daily life," Mr. Jason wrote.

Born and raised in Park River, N.D., Dr. Flint was the son of a farmer who lost his property during the Great Depression and became a farm worker.

After graduating from high school, Dr. Flint served in the Marine Corps for two years.

He had traveled extensively in Bulgaria, learned the language and was a translator of several volumes of Bulgarian poetry.

He enjoyed movies, gourmet cooking and traveling to Italy.

His marriage to Janet Altic ended in divorce.

A memorial service will be held at 3 p.m. Feb. 18 in Dahlgren Chapel on the Georgetown campus.

He is survived by his wife of 21 years, the former Rosalind Cowie; two daughters, Elizabeth F. Flint of Falls Church, Va., and Pamela H. Flint of New York City; three brothers, Allen Flint of Farmington, Maine, David Flint of Tampa, Fla., and Donald Flint of Dallas; two sisters, Helen Mary Scheinert of Nevada City, Calif., and Lois Eldridge of South Glastonbury, Conn.; and two stepsons, Erik Sherk of Bethesda and Gavin Sherk of Alameda, Calif.

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