Alumnus Matthew Mehan visited campus last week to give a talk on Christian humanism and share his recently released book of children’s poetry, which is inspired by his education at the University of Dallas.
When “Mr. Mehan’s Mildly Amusing Mythical Mammals” came out this August, it was the #1 new release in children’s poetry on Amazon for the first month and was reviewed in the Wall Street Journal and the National Review. It is about to go into its third printing, according to Mehan.
Mehan earned his B.A., M.A. and P.H.D. at UD, and now teaches high school at The Heights School in Wash. D.C., as well as at the collegiate level at the Kirby Center, a D.C. affiliate of Hillsdale College. He and his wife Molly have “seven little mammals,” as he put it, ages 12 to nine months.
The book is organized as an alphabet in which each letter stands for an imaginary monster. As the two heroes, Dally and Blug, travel through this fantastic world, they learn to respond to sadness with friendship and zeal.
Mehan’s goal was to “try to bring out a lot of the truths of our tradition and our faith in an imagistic and delightful and silly way.”
“Poetry should bring delight,” Mehan said.
Each poem comes with full-page oil illustrations painted by John Folley, Mehan’s friend and former coworker at the Heights School.
Clues and puns are hidden in the art, and a glossary at the back helps explain the meaning behind the poetry and conveys truths from a range of disciplines.
The book is meant for the whole family — adults as well as children. Inspired by thinkers such as Thomas More, Geoffrey Chaucer and William Shakespeare, it contains literary allusions and deeper philosophical meanings.
Soon after getting his B.A. in 2000, Mehan taught at a former UD program called “Thomas More in England,” where he was inspired by More’s dedication to the art of communication.
He started writing in the evenings and developed his own “funny” and “aesopic” style.
In 2007, he started writing his book.
Dr. Andrew Moran of the English Department went to Mehan’s talk “Christian Humanism for the 21st Century: The Poetic Arts of Liberty” on Sept. 27.
“What I especially enjoyed from his talk on Thursday was his explanation of the whole plan of the book, that it’s not just 26 snippets but that, through the Dally,… there’s the kind of journey that UD students are accustomed to through their study of [the] epic and novels like Moby Dick,” Moran said.
Mehan explained that the Dally’s journey is about learning to deal with sadness. He believes that this topic is especially important because anxiety and depression are prevalent in our current culture.
Even though the book is secular in tone, Mehan said it is informed by his Catholic, “comedic” vision of the world.
“If you really do have a vision that the whole world is a ‘Divine Comedy’ being played out, you have the courage to play a fool in an adult world… [and] get people to laugh in their tears,” Mehan said.
Moran taught Mehan as a doctoral student and described him as a “live-wire mind.” Moran said that Mehan is one of two doctoral students whose comments in class were so insightful that he footnoted them in academic articles he published.
“He has that capacity to make [the] metaphors that Aristotle speaks about in the ‘Poetics’ and you see that in his speech and obviously you see that now in his fiction,” Moran said.
Senior politics major Sarah Baker also attended Mehan’s talk.
“One of the aspects I like most about UD is how family-oriented the school is,” Baker wrote. “And so it was lovely to see how a three time UD grad lived that out, illustrating [through his book] how the Classics can be an education that one grows up with from childhood.”