︎ Prev          Current Issue          Next ︎

Robert Farrell

Grant us that we’re Roland Flint and that we’re not;
Yet who remembers Roland Flint? And who will
Remember him tomorrow? Mark Vinz, it’s true,
Marked Flint, remembered and was Roland Flint. But
What was it he remembered? In
A poem he sees himself as Roland Flint, which makes sense,
Because he is Roland Flint. His act of remembering
Is thus a thinking of himself;
Not a remembering of Roland Flint, no,
But still a remembering of Roland Flint. What then does
It mean to be “thankful for good words,” words that

Come from who knows where, as Vinz and Roland Flint
Were? Edward Hirsch remembered and was Roland
Flint, Hirsch, whose son would also die, who recalled
Roland Flint’s indignant anger at the first
Gulf War, and his coincident
Attachment to his bourgeois life, his garden, the comforts
Of a home in suburban Maryland, the Tidewater
Region, whose “subtle beauty and
Energy” Rita Dove felt Roland Flint’s work
To be “chock full of,” for Rita Dove is and remembers
Roland Flint, Rita Dove who described Flint as

“Roly poly” in the pages of the Washington Post.
Susan Kaye Rothbard remembered
And was Roland Flint. The writer
John Balaban, known for his poems about
Vietnam and for his translations of Vietnamese
Poets, as well as poems from Romanian, also
Remembered and was Roland Flint.
Garrison Keillor remembered and, it seems likely, still
Remembers Roland Flint, for he too is Roland Flint. They
Were friends, but who is not friends with Garrison
Keillor, whose bleak hatred of small

Town social life, of the prairie and middle
West and his concurrent love, his nostalgia
For them mirrors our self-loathing and self-love;
It makes him so endearing, made Roland Flint
Endearing that ironical
Misanthrope. Perhaps this is what it is to be Roland
Flint. But who remembers Roland Flint; that Roland Flint is
A stance, a style of life, at times
A lifestyle, a form of subjectivity,
A rejection of contemporary values and their
Bracing, for Roland Flint liked to watch TV

With his second wife at night; that Roland Flint
Is a rejection of the marketplace, though
Roland Flint was not wealth averse, sought safe jobs
And the adulation of “audiences,”
Though not as large as Keillor’s crowds,
Those that welcome him at the Town Hall in New York City;
That Roland Flint sought some amount of notoriety
Among marginalized artists
And academics; that he sat on countless
Summer writing faculties, leaving his family and
His routine back in Maryland; that for Flint

Writing poetry was itself a poetic subject,
A small salve for mild nihilism,
Consolation for the fact that
Roland Flint was and is not omnipotent;
That the “stubborn” “scribbling” about “scribbling” was not enough
To save a life, seduce a girl, avoid obscurity?
And yet Studs Terkel was friends with
Flint, Terkel, celebrator of the individual,
Of collective hope, Cartesian self-identity and
Its contradiction, a contradiction as
American as Roland Flint.

Let us not then praise Roland Flint, nor honor
Him, but simply remember and be what we
Are (and aren’t), which is Roland Flint. Not published
In Poetry, but a poem was published
In Poetry about Roland
Flint by Jeffrey Harrison, which, in its remembering,
Contained in small compass all that was and is Roland Flint.
Most of those here named knew Roland.
Even I met him once at fifteen, sixteen
During a four-day workshop in Miami, Florida
Where the non-descript, bearded North Dakotan

Had driven, I would guess, from his Silver Spring
Tract home. Like Socrates he had a concern
For youth, would later visit many high schools
Throughout Maryland, perhaps a consequence
Of his son’s death at the age of
Three, or six, or ten (reports from friends and students vary),
Ethan, twin brother to surviving daughter Pamela,
And his decades living with “loss.”
Roland Flint and his wife divorced soon after.
He remarried and remained concerned with his two living
Children, a loving father I have no doubt.

And Roland Flint continued to teach, taught Laura Gilpin’s
Poem, “The Two-Headed Calf,” a
Poem predicated on a
Deliberately muddled view of perception.
The poem makes the claim that its “subject,” a two-headed
Calf, “sees twice as many stars” as others, a tendentious
Assertion that identifies
The calf with poet, thus framing both as short-lived “freak[s] of
Nature” who must suffer in order to bring the beauty
Of the night to benighted farm boys before
Ending up in a museum,

A flip-flop of heart and head that Roland Flint
Might make; Laura Orem learned this poem from
Flint (she, too, being Roland Flint), Flint, who read
The poem in such a way, the story goes,
As to make his students, who had
Never seen the poem before, try to figure out each
Next line based on the one preceding, to guess “what comes next”
And in so doing created
The conditions for students to memorize
The poem, a pedagogical technique he must have
Often used, Roland Flint, who enjoyed talking

Up pretty girls at poetry workshops when
Visiting MFA programs, at Bread Loaf,
Or Lit Fests where he’d read, or lecture, or hold
Court, for whom, as Fan Ogilvie, who was and
Is Roland Flint, has quoted Flint,
“Words [came] up for water and the feet of girls,” Roland Flint
Who, as a child would sing, enchanted by rhyme and rhythm,
“In and out of doors, early and
Late, in barns and to cows.” Flint, whose father lived
Into his 90s, who perhaps imagined that he, too,
Might reach that age despite not having kept fit,

For Roland Flint was a stout man, Roland Flint, who dreamed that
William Stafford would outlive him
And was surprised to hear that Bill,
Sitting on a chair post run, got up, walked calm
As could be to his wife who’d called him to their kitchen, then
Fell down dead on their kitchen floor, Roland Flint who wrote a
Poem about Stafford’s death, who
Wrote about the lives and deaths of other poets he knew
Or admired, for of course he was those poets, Roland Flint
Whose goal was to be counted among poets
Whether his work was read or not;

Flint, whose writing was an existential act
Of self-assertion, -preservation, -defense,
An almost compulsive urge to put pen to
Paper, although he tried to “quit poetry”
Several times in his younger years
After getting some harsh rejections he could not forget;
Roland Flint, who wrote about his father’s rage and his own,
Who wrote about how poetry
Failed to temper rage, who wrote about yelling
At his child and the shame he felt for yelling at his child;
Roland Flint, who was a quite religious boy,

Who thought he might be an Episcopal priest
At one point – he served as an altar boy, but
Was turned from this dream at a summer church camp
(This was in North Dakota, of course) when a
Man, soon to be ordained himself,
Said something cutting and sarcastic, we know not what, to
Young Roland about his budding relationship with a
Girl, also attending church camp,
An “innocent” affair as Flint recalled it,
But made a mockery of by this man, a life changing
Embarrassment Roland Flint would hold onto,

Though he would retain a godless faith in faith itself, a
Faithless faith, and a respect for
The possibility of God
Until the end of his life, praying often,
Reciting the prayers of his youth; Roland Flint, whose friendship
With James Wright, who seemed a father figure for Roland Flint,
Set his career in motion, Wright
Who did not know Chinese but read translations of Chinese
Poets, Wright who first introduced Roland Flint to Robert
Hayden’s work, and Charles McGrath’s, James Wright, who was
Also Roland Flint, as Hayden

And McGrath were Roland Flint, Wright, whom Roland
Flint resembled, but whose work, though similar
To Roland’s shown brighter than Flint’s would. It was
Through Wright that Flint met and corresponded with
Isabella Gardner, and through
Whom Flint heard of Gregory Corso’s treatment of Gardner,
For it was to Flint that James Wright wrote his verse letter – the
Ohio Review published it –
Which described the incident; Gardner, Robert
Lowell’s cousin, great niece of Isabella Stewart Gardner,
Isabella Gardner, known to friends as Belle,

Who, like Hayden, McGrath, Wright, and, yes, Corso,
Was also Roland Flint, for indeed she was
A poet herself, a confessionalist
Avant la lettre, anticipating aspects
Of her cousin Cal’s future work,
Gardner, who championed young Roland Flint’s work when she was
No longer young in a 1968 article
Published in a special issue
Of the Minnesota Review (the journal
Was still in Minnesota then (Flint had graduated
U of M the year before)); Isabella

Gardner, who wed four times, the last to Allen Tate, who left
Her for a girl one-third his age
(A nun to boot), Gardner, whose verse
Was not in the mid century (20th)
Anthologies, and so was overlooked, though her work was
Neither better nor worse than most – her Collected Poems
Was later published by Boa
Editions who, to this day, give a prize in her honor –
Gardner, who served as associate editor under
Karl Shapiro at Poetry magazine,
Who seemed to admire Shapiro,

Quoting him in her piece on Roland Flint, his
Thought that “poetry is the personal and
Particular human truth, which cannot be
Ordered or reasoned or preconceived, it can
Only be lived in life and made
In art” and that the “personal truth of poetry and
Art gives the only permanent evidence of human
Reality we have,” words that
Capture what Roland Flint was and is about,
As well as Isabella Gardner, James Wright, and every
Other person herein named, who was, is, and

Will be Roland Flint, including Gregory
Corso, the “Gregorius” of Wright’s letter,
In which Wright alleged, and seems to have confirmed,
That Corso extorted Gardner for several
Thousand dollars for having (he,
Corso, accused) lost or even engineered the theft of
Two suitcases full of poems and Beat ephemera
(He claimed) he’d left in her room at
The Chelsea Hotel, although it was well known
That Corso had not written for a while, had writer’s block,
Though in theory possessed of as much “human

Truth” as he had ever been; Corso, who, it would seem, took
Sexual advantage of Rose
Van Kirk, Isabella Gardner’s
Daughter, Belle’s golden, schizophrenic Rose, whom
Corso had blow him publicly, presumably in the
Chelsea’s lobby or a stairwell, an indirect attack
On Gardner, whom Corso flattered
In his youth, Gardner, who, flattered, encouraged the younger
Poet, sent his work on to Shapiro, though Shapiro
Did not take it for Poetry, Rose, a girl
Who would later be beaten to

The point of death, left with brain damage, at the
Chelsea Hotel, no one held responsible.
Yes, Corso was also Roland Flint. But would
The collectors at Division Leap, a store
In Portland, Oregon see Flint
In Corso? Division Leap, lovers of the avant garde,
The photostat, the hand-printed, the experiment, of
DIY – would they recognize
Roland Flint in the Beats, the high modern, the
Post-modern, the post-post-modern, the conceptual, post-
Conceptual, or the “new sincerity”

Poets in which they deal? But he is there, Flint,
For it is a matter of memory or
Error in memory, of the relation
Between memory, self, and poem, errors
That prey on all of us, errors
That constitute Roland Flint and us as Roland Flint, an
Inhibitory reverence for a kind of verse that
Scales back the scope of memory,
That closes and encloses the mind inside
Itself, from which is then sent out a sound like sonar that
Bounces off things, returning us to ourselves

Not as Echo once resaid the words of Liriope’s
Son, but echo, bearing out the
Notion that meaning is forged by
The poem; that the poem connects poets
To the world by bringing the outside in, the inside out,
The lonely words of a lonely person sung to other
Lonely people; that without this starfish there are only
Bodies that, with or without poems, can only bridge the
Gap between each other through sex or performance. All this
Roland Flint, videlicet we, including
Felix Bernstein, whippersnapper,

Knew or know, Bernstein fils, who will not be a
Whippersnapper long, who will be obsolesced
By other whippersnappers, yet still live on,
Just as his father, quondam whippersnapper,
Whose true Flint-like nature poked out
In an elegy for his daughter, Emma Bee, Felix
Bernstein, for whom criticism, young as he is, also
Functions as the dialectic
Counterpart to sex and performance, and who,
Like his father, like Roland Flint, prefers criticism
To poems as a means to make the leap to

Other people whose minds and therefore bodies
Seem to be in constant apposition
To each other between which abysses stretch;
That sees personal identity, the self’s
History, sensation, affliction,
Passion, and affect as all; that sees anecdote as the
Material out of which salvation can be knitted
Like a soft sweater that makes one
Want to touch it; even Roland Flint knew or
Must have known without knowing, as we know without knowing,
That such a view of life/language only

Serves to circumscribe the horizon of a self into
Which the world is retrojected,
Made an accident’s accident,
A sad or sadd’ning catastrophe or joke.
And what did he remember, Roland Flint? Conceptual
Poet, as or even more conceptual than Kenneth
Goldsmith, that Roland Flint, whose war
Against expression only intensifies his Flintness
By negating Roland Flint, poet of memory, whose
Remembering and forgetting let him will
A conceptual subject and

A resistance to that subject, another
Dialectic that makes us say that while the
Black female body is not Roland Flint, it
Is Roland Flint and that the rhetorical,
Syntactic, and theoretic
Tactics for resisting forms of subjectification
Or subjectivization, whether the agent is one’s
Self, or another, or one’s self
As another, are parts of a strategy
That itself depends on Roland Flint; Roland Flint whose work
Is a heroic refutation of a

Neoliberal subjectivity or full
Economic rationality, whose work
Like Ron Silliman’s blog posts and critical
Writing, when taken with his poems, can be
Seen as a simultaneous
Act of self-effacement and a cry of, “Look at me, I’m
Different.” Roland Flint, whose work was not just expression but
L=A=N=G=U=A=G=E –
There – and at the same time asks us, “Do you feel
What I feel, am feeling?” or more often asking those who
Were and are him if they have felt what he has

Felt, those “emotions” recollected in tranquility,
Or, for Roland Flint, it would seem,
More often intranquility,
Represented in prose broken into lines
Ruled by an idiopathic rhythm, potentially
Opaque to others, his particular nightmare, one shared
By all who were and are Roland
Flint, those who stand on a solipsistic precipice, who
Pray for someone to translate us, yet unwilling to
Let go those things that keep us from a common
World, unwilling to be common.

And what of Rodney Koenecke, whom I met
By chance at Division Leap in Oregon?
Is he Roland Flint? Yes, he too’s Roland Flint,
And when he asked if I was “checking out the
Scene” exemplified that side of
Flint that pushed Flint out of Park River, Koenecke out of
Tucson to join “a scene,” whether acted out on platforms,
On raised stages, or drum risers,
Before podiums, with or without mics, or
At tables until the role of Roland Flint became the
Role of a lifetime, not knowing that I live

In the Bronx, New York, which Google maps reports
Is 2860 or so
Miles (942 hours) by foot and
A world away from Portland, Oregon, and
That the Bronx, while possessed of its
Own scene, to be sure, is possessed of a very different
Scene, with different stages, platforms, risers, podiums, and
Tables (with or without mics) on
Which scenesters perform different kinds of roles, though
Each still Roland Flint (ut sup.). But there is Brooklyn, it’s
There, and there is Queens; there is Berl’s Poetry

Shop in Dumbo and the numerous small artist spaces,
There are the colleges, and there
Is Manhattan, The St. Mark’s Church
In the Bowery, and its Poetry Project,
Where I met a very drunk and very coked-out Peter
Orlovsky in 1993 or four, who gave me
The Collected Poems of Hart
Crane and a copy of The Bridge (and a warm Budweiser),
Books I’d read two years later on a beach in southern France
Still convalescing from chemotherapy;
And there’s the quarterly letter

Of the Poetry Project, which records the
Sayings and doings of Roland Flint; and there’s
The Poetry Society and there’s the
Academy of American Poets,
Themselves longstanding scenes, and there’s
The Strand Bookstore, one of the few remaining used bookstores
In Manhattan, an island on the island, where readings
Are often recorded, and there
Is Coldfront, the Harriet Blog, Entropy,
Boston Review, and all the online journals and those in
Print, including, but not limited to The

Claudius App, Fence, The Common, Tin House, Gulf
Coast, the venerable Paris Review and
All the other publications, national,
International, factional, regional,
Personal, or thematic: And
There is Twitter, Facebook, Ello, Instagram and every
Present and future technology that allows a “scene”
To arise and proliferate,
That multiplies societies through platforms
Electronic, now mobile and thus potentially with
One at all times, a perpetual scene, a

Seeing and being-seen, unlimited, horizonless;
And there is Alan Bernheimer’s
Flickr feed with its headshots of
Poets, each one thereby Flinted, sights of a
Scene, images of Roland Flint. And perhaps this captures
Best the quality of a “scene,” that the scene, whether in
San Francisco, New York City,
Iowa or online is inescapable, total:
The “scene,” a word used in his autobiography by
Bob Dylan many times, who was Roland Flint
Before Roland Flint, Bob Dylan

Whom Roland Flint refused to publish in the
Minnesota Review while editor in
The mid 1960s, “scene,” a word which seems
To mean, in Dylan’s usage, something like “time
Of life witnessed by a small peer
Group who will record each others’ actions, save each other
From oblivion,” but now connotes a space, not place, where
Individuals see and are
Seen, tokening the performative aspect
And, at times, the small group qualification, but not the
Impulse to be remembered that Dylan held.

For all will be preserved in digital e-
Quality, and each ego among other
Egos will operate like fining agents
In beer, minds that sieve this frothy world for grit,
Minds that will continue to re-
Present that grit, the evidence of existence through form
And attention or lack of form and lack of attention,
Feeling that this moment is not
Enough, this convocation of life, this breath,
Reflecting on what is hard and what is needed, the breath
Rising into clearing, or clearing into

Rising. But where are the friends when there are only those who
Hold the stage and those who watch it,
When we simply take turns being
Roland Flint? No one knew the importance of
Spectators more than Roland Flint, who was quick to censure
Inattentive attendees of readings or those who dared
Whisper something to someone near
While he spoke his verse, censuring ostensibly in the
Name of poetry, but really in the name of Flint, from
Roland Flint’s need to be heard so that he might
Continue to be Roland Flint.

But did poetry need saving by Roland
Flint? This “easy” place where Roland Flint abides
Seems natural, but it is dislocated, a
Foreign land. We must venture into it if
We are to know how it stands with
Language. But again we ask, where are the friends? And how can
We hear the rivers over the sound of many streams, live
Or dead, the rivers that let the
Sheltering trees grow, over the words and selves
That accumulate in slim volumes of verse or in line
After line on the Internet, lines that make

Their sound or remain soundless, unseen and so
Unheard, that are read by contemporaries
Or by future scholars in search of novel
Trends, for material from which to construct
Arguments, generalizations,
Or a well-placed review, leaving the words untouched until
Librarians make room for the next incarnation of
Roland Flint, while Roland Flint’s words,
As if perched on the last mountain as the sea
Floods rise are whelmed and carried off, because librarians,
Especially public librarians, but

Those who work at colleges, too, must make decisions and
Have responsibilities to
Readers, or teachers, or to the
“Curriculum,” or simply to “the present”
And unless they work in a rich library whose mission
Is to collect and retain as much as possible, and
In an age when “austerity”
Is the guiding trope such libraries are rare indeed, they
Must make room and make current and thereby make “relevant”
Their collections, must demonstrate their “value,”
To wit “utility,” or else

Deaccession, cull, “weed,” or otherwise get
Rid of books altogether and give way to
“Public space,” more computers, 3D printers,
Or a circulating tool collection and
So send Gwendolyn Brooks, perhaps,
Who is Roland Flint, Li Young Lee, who is Roland Flint, Pam
Rehm, who resists and thereby is Roland Flint, or Peter
Orlovsky into book sales or
Recycle bins, or overseas to countries
Building small libraries for those learning English. O time,
You deaccession all and all are weeds. But

Where does that leave Flint or the faculty in
Poetry of the MFA program at
Columbia who labor over words and
Lesson plans in offices, who undertake
The work of Roland Flint just south
Of where I sit? Hirsute ahenobarbus; haruspex
For sad sacks with sob stories; chronicler of bombastic
Banalities, amplifier
Of anti-ecstatic emotions. Muse, give
Me strength to endure the burden. Laureated by the
State of Maryland in 1995

He was the state of Maryland in 1995
And the state was he. Selected
By Dave Smith for the National
Poetry Series in 1990 for
Stubborn, his sixth volume, verse that “crooned to” Smith, he was the
Nation in 1990 and the nation he. And though
Killed by pancreatic riot
At the age of 66 in 2001, both the
Nation, and the state, and all those within them remain him
For as long as we remember or forget
To be or not be Roland Flint.

An excerpt from an early version of "Roland Flint" appeared in The Brooklyn Review.︎︎︎