When the late Roland Flint, former Maryland poet laureate, would read to students for the Howard County Poetry and Literature Society, the organization's president often would sit in the classroom and watch with awe the students' captivated faces.
"He was just extraordinary," Ellen Conroy Kennedy said. "I never felt that we did our mission more than on those occasions."
Flint, who died of cancer in January 2001 at age 66, meant a lot to Kennedy and HoCoPoLitSo, participating in more than 40 events in 24 years.
To honor Flint, the society will bring together a group of poets and writers April 7 at Columbia's Slayton House and celebrate his work for National Poetry Month.
They'll read his poems and share memories of him - including his performance with Garrison Keillor, host of public radio's A Prairie Home Companion, at the 1994 Columbia Festival of the Arts and the diverse reactions his readings would elicit from audiences.
"I've seen him in the past, sitting around a table reading a poem, and people would respond with tears in their eyes," Kennedy said. "He also could make people laugh."
Part of what made Flint's work so powerful was the tension he created by writing poems with simple surfaces but complex interiors, said Michael Collier, Maryland poet laureate.
Many of Flint's poems begin with a seemingly straightforward story and "then you begin to realize the emotional currents as you read through it are very complex and powerful," said Collier, who will read at the event.
Poets and writers Carrie McCully Brown, Edward Weismiller, Terence Winch and Lyubomir Nikolov also are scheduled to participate.
Flint - who lived in Kensington and taught creative writing and literature at Georgetown University - often would write about the death of his 6-year-old son, Ethan, who was hit and killed by a car in 1972.
Collier said many poets have a theme they routinely write about, though many not as tragic as the death of a child. However, he said, Flint's writing showed how "poetry can be an optimistic force in the face of tragedy."
"The work really shows us that which is most difficult in our lives is really the source of our strength," said Collier, who is co-director of the creative writing program at University of Maryland, College Park. "He didn't go back to it in a morbid way, he went back to it again and again to try to understand it, to commemorate it, to remember it."
In "Stubborn," Flint began with a meeting of students on a Sunday afternoon; but the poem soon turned into grief for his son as he wrote about finding a lost 2-year-old boy on the street and helping him find his parents. He wrote:
I don't start crying until I get back in the car -
and I'm furious and groan with it to know,
even then, in spite of myself, that I'll write about this
as well, pulled through the pages by something,
as if in the hand, to write it down here.
Besides despair of writing it well enough
is this revulsion at smearing grief
in order to do it, to use a poem as if you were
trading what you have lived through for words,
selling out, by using, the worst secrets.
Rosalind Cowie, who was married to Flint for 21 years, said his connection to Howard County was very important to him and he appreciated the county's dedication to the arts.
"There wasn't a lot out there for poetry in other surrounding areas," said Cowie, of Kensington. "I know he spent a lot of time on the telephone with Ellen Kennedy."
Cowie, who will attend the event honoring Flint, said she hopes the audience will learn about his humanity and his "efforts in fostering the development of new poets."
Collier was one of the young poets whom Flint helped - they would discuss poetry, and Flint would invite him to readings at Georgetown. Although Collier was 20 years younger, Flint treated him "as a contemporary, a friend," Collier said.
"I learned a tremendous amount from him, primarily about how to take yourself, how to be both a poet and a person," he said. "And how to live in the world as a poet."
Collier succeeded Flint as poet laureate in February 2001 and said taking the position was "bittersweet" because "it was hard for me not to think of the poet laureate as Roland."
Kennedy said National Poetry Month is an appropriate time to celebrate Flint because he left a legacy throughout the state, especially in Howard County.
"He's our own Robert Frost," Kennedy said. "And we just loved him."
The program honoring Roland Flint will be held from 4 p.m. to 6 p.m. April 7 at Slayton House, 10451 Twin Rivers Road, Columbia. Tickets are $10. Information: 410-730-7524.