Staley Takes His Time to Deliver a Timeless Book of Poetry

Harry Staley

Any colleague or former student of Professor Emeritus Harry Staley would vouch for the fact he has taught his English classes at the University since 1956 with an unsurpassed intellectual passion.

No wonder then that only with freedom from his full-time teaching load, with retirement in 1993, could Staley begin assembling his brilliant poetry of mind and spirit into a first published collection.

The Lives of a Shell-Shocked Chaplain (St. Andrews College Press/SUNY), a narrative in poetry which follows the life of one Charles J. McCaffery from his birth in 1920 to his death in a nursing home in 1987, is the publisher's first in a series called "Visions and Prophecies," dedicated to "prodigious poets whose first books are published late in their careers."

An official publication and book-signing will be held on Monday, Oct. 11, from 7 to 9 p.m. in The Book House of Stuyvesant Plaza. A New York State Writers Institute reading by the author is scheduled for December 7.

"The coherence, the wit, and the power of Staley's first published work are formidable," said Pulitzer prize-winner William Kennedy, professor of English and Writers Institute director. "It's a virtuoso performance."

"By the use of this narrative framework," says Judith Johnson, a long-time Department of English colleague of Staley's and an internationally acclaimed poet, "Staley not only enables himself to deal with the rites of passage in the life of an ordinary ethical and decent human being . . . he also enables himself to write a kind of poetic history of the great moments of historical crisis of our time."

Staley is a widely known James Joyce scholar who, with his close friend and faculty colleague, the late Tom Smith, two decades ago developed a multi-media performance of Finnegan's Wake. He continues to teach courses at Albany on Joyce, romanticism, and the theater of the absurd.

Raised and educated in Brooklyn, according, he says, "to the Counsel of Trent and the Catholic Counter-Reformation," Staley melded many of own his experiences in the Army during World War II into the reflections of the fictional McCaffery — who, like Staley, later becomes an opponent of the Vietnam war.

"Because McCaffery is reflecting in his old age upon his entire life," said Johnson, "time and history become collapsed, concentrated to one moment of moral choice which is every moment of choice."

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