Some years ago, I put together an experimental story entitled ‘Dublin Symphony’. A rather dark urban fantasy, it consisted of four movements: ‘Skin’; ‘rain-mongrel’; ‘Voices’; ‘The Sisters’. Each had its own narrative logic, its own cohesion, its own tempo. The structure, such as it was, was loosely musical, or was intended to be. I was never entirely happy with it. So I was suitably surprised when it won first prize at the Maria Edgeworth Festival, 2003. Notwithstanding this vote of confidence, when I came to compile the contents of my short story collection, No Greater Love, a decade later, I could find no place for ‘Dublin Symphony’. It languished, like so many abandoned works, on my hard-drive. But in the dry season, when confronted with extended spells of the dreaded writer’s block, my modus operandi has always been to go back to the compost heap of the hard-drive.
It seemed to me that the second movement of the story, the prose-poem ‘rain-mongrel’ (all lower case), had life in it. Anyone who struggles with the Irish Times Crosaire will know that, when wringing out the grey matter has yielded nothing beyond a few diminishing dribbles, some mundane chore intervenes – the peeling of spuds, a stroll to the shops – and upon return the most stubborn of clues will have somehow revealed its secrets. In the same way, out of sight in the ferment of the id, one or another of the tubers of an abandoned work will occasionally sprout.
At five hundred words or thereabouts, I wondered would ‘rain-mongrel’ work as a piece of flash fiction. But in the echo-chamber of my head it was inseparable from the voice that spoke it. It was, if anything, a piece of performance poetry. But I’m no performance poet. Besides everything else, my memory isn’t up to it. On the other hand, myself and wife-to-be Tanya Farrelly had by this time begun to host a monthly spoken word event in Toner’s pub called Staccato. A new idea began to form. Perhaps all that the ‘rain-mongrel’ poem required was a framework. Not merely a framing device, but some context of equal weight, but tonally distinct. The result is a piece double the length of the original. Whether it works or not I leave to the reader of The Lonely Crowd.
I do want to return, briefly, to the modus operandi. Reduce, Reuse, Recycle. In my writing over the last fifteen years, it has worked time and again as a Get Out Of Jail card. I wrote my first published novel, The Last European while supposedly doing my PhD, and whenever that got jammed, I found my mind had begun to work certain passages into poems. Years later, many of these appeared in my inaugural collection Via Crucis. Likewise, a chunk of one of my current works in progress, a novel tentatively titled Under the Sign of the Goat, has evolved into a one-act play Blue Love, which was a winner of a Cork Arts Theatre Writer’s Award and British Theatre Challenge last year, and is to be published this autumn by the Kenyon Review. It seems creativity, like mushrooms, thrives in the dark!
David Butler’s most recent novel City of Dis (New Island) was shortlisted for the Kerry Group Irish Novel of the Year, 2015. A short story collection, No Greater Love, was published in London in 2013 by Ward Wood.
© David Butler, 2017. Image © Jo Mazelis, 2017.