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Muldoon, Heaney readings to open Irish poetry exhibit

You lose more of yourself than you redeem doing the decent thing. Keep at a tangent. When they make the circle wide, it's time to swim out on your own – Seamus Heaney

Paul Muldoon, the creative writing department's celebrated Irish poet, will be joined on stage with some of his famous peers later this month.


But instead of Laurie Sheck and Yusef Komunyakaa – two more famed poets the University can claim as teachers – Muldoon will be joined by friends from back home: the Irish poets Seamus Heaney, Michael Longley and Nuala Ní Dhomhnaill.

The reading, which will include Nobel Prizewinning Heaney, is in honor of the Leonard L. Milberg '53 collection of work from 50 Irish poets. Milberg donated money to the University in order to cultivate a collection of Irish poetry.

The exhibition accompanying the collection will open April 26 immediately after Heaney's reading. The public will be allowed into the exhibition on the 27th, said John Delaney, leader of rare books and manuscripts cataloguing team.

The exhibition will parallel a similar celebration for American poets also sponsored by Milberg in 1994. Both galleries as well as three lobby cases will be devoted to the Irish poets, Delaney said.

In addition to poetry books and pamphlets, the exhibition will feature fiction, translations and "miscellaneous" objects like Christmas cards and essays about subjects like art and astronomy, Delaney explained.

Wes Davis, an English department graduate student, wrote introductory essays for each poet's entry in the collection's catalogue.


Since 50 poets comprise the collection, "we're covering a lot of ground," Davis said, "The earliest poet wrote a play for Yeats' Abbey Theater. The latest poet was born in the mid-sixties – she has a site on the World Wide Web. It's hard to talk about general trends in a group that's so wildly spread out."

However, there are still qualities that unite Irish poets, he said. "(Irish poets) seem more than other poets to be interested in language and how their choices about language or discoveries in language have consequences outside language, like political consequences for example."

Political messages, which abound in current Irish culture, generally manifest themselves discreetly, Davis said. "Playfulness with language" is the most characteristic, he added.

First editions

As far as collections of Irish poetry go, "this is going to be one of the most important collections of Irish poets in the country," Davis said.

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Instead of simply having a specific rare book, "students can go look at a first edition of a book and hold that. Most were not published in large numbers and are fairly rare," he said.

Heaney's willingness to read at the University indicates the significance of the University collection, which is on par with the Irish poetry collections of Emory and Wake Forest universities, Davis said.

The Irish poetry collection will be the second collection Milberg has funded, Davis said.