UNH professor reads poetry at the Three Chimneys Inn

By Samuel Rabuck
On March 4, 2014

Professor, advisor and now award-winning poet, UNH professor Andrew Merton, read selections of his poetry from his book "Evidence that We Are Descended from Chairs" on Monday night at the Three Chimneys Inn in Durham. Merton's reading was a part of the UNH Center for Humanities' "First Monday" talks, in which UNH professors read and discuss their research with faculty and students the first Monday of each month. 

Merton, the current chair of the Department of English, began his career as a journalist working for The Boston Herald Traveler and The Boston Globe after graduating from UNH in 1967. Shortly thereafter, Merton was offered a teaching position at UNH, which he has maintained ever since.

While teaching at UNH, Merton met poetry professors Charles Simic and Mekeel McBride who helped inspire him to begin writing poetry.

"Hanging out with [Simic and McBride], I started reading much more poetry than I ever had and I decided maybe I should try this stuff." Merton said. 

Merton's poetry has been well-received by the New Hampshire poetry community with "Evidence that We Are Descended from Chairs," earning the New Hampshire Writer's Project (NHWP) Award for most Outstanding Book of Poetry. 

Merton's colleagues are not surprised that his poetry has been so successful, despite his nonfiction background. In fact, his colleagues believe his experience as journalist and non-fiction essayist has added unique elements to his poetry. 

"[Merton] has a wonderful ear for the way words work and a wonderful eye for detail," UNH professor Lisa Miller said. "He has a wonderful sense of humor as well." 

"Evidence that We Are Descended from Chairs" is a compilation of poetry that Merton has written throughout his teaching career. The poems from the book were inspired by Merton's dreams, travels and life experiences. 

"The thing that really struck me as a listener tonight was how his poems have a reporter's quality to them," UNH Assistant Director of the Center of Humanities Katie Umans said. "Even though these bizarre things happen in this surreal state, the way [Merton] writes about them is very matter of fact." 

The selections Merton chose to read Monday ranged from playful satire as found in his poem "Diner, Revere, Massachusetts, Winter, 4 a.m." to spiritual philosophy in "Cruise Ship Intervention." Both poems were based on Merton's personal experiences and imagination. 

"I really enjoy the humor in [Merton's poetry], but also his ability at the same time to say something very serious. [Merton] can juxtapose both of those things in a poem in a wonderful way, and I really like that," Miller said. 

Although his poetry is well-written and might prompt discussion on a variety of topics, Merton stresses that he does not want readers to over-analyze his work. Merton would rather his work inspire readers and get them thinking. 

"What I hope when anybody reads [my poems] is that they just enjoy the stuff and be engaged by them and think about them." Merton said. 

As for advice to writers looking to expand into the poetic-realm, Merton suggests joining a group of poetry writers, or for students to enroll in a poetry class. Merton also advises students to "lower their standards" when beginning to write poetry, which helps fight discouragement. 

"Do the free writing, come up with what you can, and if you enjoy it, you will improve." Merton said. 

The next "First Monday" will be led by UNH professor of French Nadine Berenguier, and also held at the Three Chimney's on April 7 from 5 to 7 p.m. Contact Katie Umans at katie.umans@unh.edu for more information. 

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