Union professors author book of poetry

Union College professors Mike Mennard and Jim McClelland will unveil their new book of poetry, The Left-sock Tree, on Sept. 19, from 6 to 8 p.m. at Indigo Bridge Books.

Ultimately it was boredom that planted the seed of The Left-sock Tree.

Last August, at a Union College employee meeting, Mike Mennard, associate professor of English and communication, glanced over at his colleague, Jim McClelland, professor of art. McClelland, obviously daydreaming, doodled on the table. To McClelland, he was simply passing the time. In Mennard’s mind however, it was the unspooling of an idea that would jumpstart Mennard’s drawn-out project.

“I had only seen his (McClelland’s) serious watercolors and oil paintings of various nature scenes,” explained Mennard. “But here were these comical caricatures, so ridiculously wonderful, it blew me away.”

Mennard smiled as he remembered his bag stashed under the seat. It contained dozens of original un-illustrated children’s poetry.

“My biggest dream in life has been to make this book,” said Mennard. “My first children’s CD, Something’s Rotting in the Fridge, is mostly poetry set to music. I had written a book of children’s poetry and I couldn’t find a publisher.”

Poets such as Edward Lear, Spike Milligan and Shel Silverstein inspired much of Mennard’s poetical style.

“With kids there are no limits,” exclaimed Mennard.  “You can go as outrageous as possible and you still haven’t hit the boundary of their imagination.

Children’s poetry is often thought of as gross and pure silliness. Both Mennard and McClelland see it as representing something greater. “The thing that attracted me is the magic of places that seem just out of reach.

The Left-sock Tree is a playground of words daring readers to see beyond what’s possible.  The tree itself represents a place where all the lost things go—socks and dreams alike.

“I had as much fun stretching my own imagination to come up with the sometimes impossible concepts,” McClelland said.

More than just realizing dreams, Mennard and McClelland hope children develop their inner creativity, whatever that may be. McClelland understands the importance of developing a passion for the arts, even if it is not valued at home or school. “All kids draw, but  few make it a passion as I did,” McClelland recalled.

McClelland, who has been teaching art for over four decades, dedicates the book to his son, who has similar humor to Mennard. McClelland has taught art around the country and in Trinidad, Bermuda, Costa Rica, Belize, Guatemala, Nicaragua, and Honduras. His paintings are displayed in galleries all over the world. The Union College art gallery is named in his honor.

Mennard is an award-winning kids’ recording artist. He has produced six kids’ recordings; the most recent being It’s a Pirate’s World. His musical comedy, That’s What Makes Them Pirates, debuted in 2010.

The Left-sock Tree will be unveiled Sept. 19 at Indigo Bridge Books from 6 – 8 p.m.  Mennard will read selected poems from the book while McClelland illustrates on the spot.