The Hamiltonian approach to isomonodromic deformation systems is extended to include generic rational covariant derivative operators on the Riemann sphere with irregular singularities of arbitrary Poincaré rank. The space of rational connections with given pole degrees carries a natural Poisson structure corresponding to the standard classical rational R-matrix structure on the dual space L*gl(r) of the loop algebra Lgl(r). Nonautonomous isomonodromic counterparts of isospectral systems generated by spectral invariants are obtained by identifying deformation parameters as Casimir elements on the phase space. These are shown to coincide with higher Birkhoff invariants determining local asymptotics near to irregular singular points, together with the pole loci. Pairs consisting of Birkhoff invariants, together with the corresponding dual spectral invariant Hamiltonians, appear as “mirror images” matching, at each pole, the negative power coefficients in the principal part of the Laurent expansion of the fundamental meromorphic differential on the associated spectral curve with the corresponding positive power terms in the analytic part. Infinitesimal isomonodromic deformations are shown to be generated by the sum of the Hamiltonian vector field and an explicit derivative vector field that is transversal to the symplectic foliation. The Casimir elements serve as coordinates complementing those along the symplectic leaves, defining a local symplectomorphism between them. The explicit derivative vector fields preserve the Poisson structure and define a flat transversal connection, spanning an integrable distribution whose leaves may be identified as the orbits of a free Abelian local group action. The projection of infinitesimal isomonodromic deformation vector fields to the quotient manifold under this action gives commuting Hamiltonian vector fields corresponding to the spectral invariants dual to the Birkhoff invariants and the pole loci.

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