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Tuesday, Feb. 17, 2009

Poetic Migration

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It seems that for poet James Liddy fluid passage from place to place or past, present and unknowable future was not something to be feared but embraced. Last November he passed away, and though no chronicle of this final journey can exist, three books published posthumously help deepen our understanding of the spatial, spiritual and intellectual sojourns that colored his language and his life, and the fellow travelers he met along the way.

Askeaton Sequence and Wexford and Arcady are both poetry anthologies that shift between Liddy's native home in Ireland and his adopted home in Milwaukee. According to James Chapson, Liddy's longtime partner and fellow poet, Liddy felt the new books were among his best work.

"The style there is often elliptical but more lyrical at the same time than in the last few years," he says.

The Full Shilling is the second part of an autobiographical work published in 2004 named The Doctor's House. It revisits much of the same ground as the first volume-Liddy's childhood and coming of age in Ireland, the literary figures like Patrick Kavanagh who loomed large in mid-century Dublin, his voyage to the United States in the '60s, first to San Francisco, where he came into contact with influential contemporaries like Jack Spicer, and later to Milwaukee in the mid-'70s. It also follows Liddy's markedly nonlinear style-one for which Liddy was sometimes criticized but which Chapson believes is an apt expression of the nature of memory. "Memory doesn't follow a chronological pattern and he doesn't try to impose that upon it," he says.

All three posthumous publications and a new collection of poetry by Chapson will be released at a launch party at UW-Milwaukee's Green Hall on Friday, Feb. 20, 7:30 p.m.

Titled Daphnis and Ratboy, Chapson's newest volume reflects the classical influences that have occupied him in recent years. "I find myself more drawn to the stronger clarity of Greek and Latin poets, and their satirical sharpness," he says. Specifically drawing on the pastoral traditions of Greek poetry, Chapson's book contains an extended imitation of the work of Theocritus, the third-century poet widely considered the father of the idyll. Copies of all four books will be available for purchase and Alan Hayes from Arlen House, the publisher of the poetry books mentioned above, will be coming all the way from Ireland to attend the launch.

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