Biography of Irish Poet Robert Donnelly

Short fiction, literature, short story, biography of Irish poet, Robert Donnelly, fictional poet story by Stephen Totterdell, ireland, argentina - HeadStuff.orgRobert Donnelly, Irish poet.

b. Dublin, Ireland 1984 – d. Buenos Aires, Argentina 2047

 

Until his premature death at the hands of a primary school teacher, Robert Donnelly was something of a cautionary tale. One may argue that he remained a cautionary tale even in death. The great-grandson of acclaimed Dublin-born novelist John Donnelly (author of By Night in London, and The Villa), Robert learned from an early age the intricacies of literary estate management. His father, Alfonso Donnelly, later to become canonised as the poet Gottfried Schultz, left “to buy a CD in Golden Discs”[1] in 1994: subsequently fleeing his family and the country. Robert was thereon raised by his mother Denise. He developed a vocation for poetry, and at the age of 19 he self-published 300 prints of his first poetry collection,Temple Bar (2003), which he sold at poetry slams and gigs. By the time his great-grandfather’s estate passed into his hands aged 23, Robert had developed his vocation for poetry to include a passion for anti-establishment thinkers such as Jürgen Lamprecht and Don Sawyer. He contributed regularly at open mic nights around the Dun Laoghaire-Rathdown area and quickly developed a cult following among disadvantaged youths. Unfortunately, while he proved relatively adept within the small pond of self-publishing, his outright refusal to follow any of the basic tenets of good business sense – on the grounds that “business is for suckers”[2] – led to trouble for the estate of John Donnelly; namely: a series of misguided investments, mismanagement of those investments, and subsequent financial ruin. In 2011, four years before the expiration of John Donnelly’s copyright, Robert purchased an apartment block in Leipzig (Germany) with the intention of living off its meagre intake of rent. For a year he lived on the top floor of the building and wrote the poems that would come to make up his later collection Bus Ticket (2017). In winter 2012 a community of squatters took over the building and Robert, unable to turn his back on the dispossessed as he saw them, ignored his family’s insistence that he take the squatters to court.

 

In 2013 he published a hoax memoir, Hat and Boots, under his great-grandfather’s name. The authorial voice claimed that, having faked his own death in the London Blitz of 1940, John Donnelly had actually retired to Buenos Aires; where he lived until at least 1955 – the year of the book’s supposed completion. Robert, who was subsequently invited to talk about the find on BBC Culture Review, was keen to push the point that John’s work should now remain under control of the estate until at least 2030 – pending investigation. The 75 year copyright expiration date, he emphasised, should be moved forward in light of this new information. He claimed to have found the manuscript among his father’s belongings while searching his mother’s house for prescription drugs. When asked about his father he became visibly upset and admitted that he had finally discovered Alfonso’s whereabouts: that he was the minor poet Gottfried Schultz; living and working in Hamburg. The television interview came across as rather sensational, and newspapers began to circulate rumours of a hoax. The Guardian interviewed Gottfried Schultz in December 2013. Schultz denied knowledge of his alleged former identity, but mysteriously confirmed that John Donnelly had relocated to Buenos Aires in 1940.

 

The estate’s funds were frozen in 2015 pending the completion of a full investigation. That same year, Robert Donnelly took a plane to Berlin in order to attend a poetry festival at which Gottfried Schultz was reading. Unable to make contact with his father, who now travelled with a sizeable entourage, Donnelly nevertheless settled in Berlin for four years, contributing poems and literary criticism to a number of independent publications. While living there he published a hoax biography of fictitious German filmmaker Franz Raben, using the pseudonym Martin Waters, and tried to pass off his own home videos as those of Raben. Rumbled immediately, he returned to poetry. After the publication of Bus Ticket he found himself hailed as Bauerndichter (Peasant Poet) in Der Spiegel and a literary tour followed. Gottfried Schultz, meanwhile, had taken an interest in Donnelly’s career – and the two had begun correspondence. While always refusing to meet, Schultz’s letters display affection that is absent from his public interviews. In 2036, the thirtieth anniversary of the publication of Schultz’s influential collection Mitkommen (2006)and the tenth anniversary of his death, the letters became available to the public. Schultz calls Donnelly “My little vagabond”[3], and writes about “Our shared sentence in estate management”[4], before eventually revealing, in a letter dated March 3rd 2023, that “It is I, Alfonso, poet of the […] skies!”[5] Schultz was not an orderly man, and only a handful of Donnelly’s letters remain. One is a recipe for chicken and sweetcorn soup, and the other three are rants about minor political figures of the time.

 

In 2022, six months prior to Schultz’s revelation, the long legal battle that followed Donnelly’s publication of Hat and Boots came to its end with the court concluding that the memoir had been faked. John Donnelly’s three novels entered the public domain and the publicity surrounding the trial ensured lively debate and reinterpretations of the work. By now Robert Donnelly was making a steady income editing Ferner Stern, a literary magazine based in Hamburg, and the resulting notoriety only bolstered his career. He wrote three sketches poking fun at his great-grandfather’s work. The most well known of these is Meine Villa (2023), based on The Villa (1936), in which the protagonist, originally a wealthy steamship owner, is replaced with a shady brothel owner. In an attempt to rewrite Hat and Boots as a novel, Donnelly researched Latin America extensively (something he had previously neglected) and, though the novel was never finished, he fell in love with the continent. After his father’s death in 2026, Donnelly flew to Buenos Aires and opened a café called The Little Death. Never fully integrating with the locals, preferring instead to view the city through a romantic lens, he faded from the literary scene for much of the rest of his life. Briefly, in 2045, he gave an interview to The Irish Times in which he hinted at a new publication. This turned out to be a memoir, released the following year to little fanfare, called Dutschke & I (2046), in which Donnelly claims to have been “Definitely a key player”[6] during the 2018 socialist revolution in Ireland. Researchers in 2053 discovered newspaper articles which prove that he had been living in Berlin at the time of the revolution[7]. In 2047, three days after celebrating his sixty third birthday, Robert was stabbed and killed in his café by fellow ex-pat Joseph Ward[8]. The motivation behind the stabbing remains a mystery.

 

 

 

[1]           Donnelly, Denise. My Life with Gott. Faber & Faber, London. Found among her things and published posthumously in 2044. Print. p. 54

[2]           Donnelly, Robert. Dutschke & I. Faber and Faber. 2046: Print. p. 3

[3]           Schultz, Gottfried. Letters, vol. 1. Prozeß Pub., 2036. Print. p.23

[4]           Schultz, Gottfried. Letters, vol. 1. Prozeß Pub., 2036. Print. p.70

[5]           Schultz, Gottfried. Letters, vol. 1. Prozeß Pub., 2036. Print. p.236

[6]           Donnelly, Robert. Dutschke & I. Faber and Faber. 2046. Print. p.47

[7]           Der Spiegel, February 5th 2018, July 8th 2018, July 15th 2018, September 23rd 2018, January 3rd 2019, April 18th 2019, April 19th 2019, August 5th 2019

[8]           Clarín, Grupo Clarín, October 3rd 2047.

Stephen Totterdell
Stephen Totterdell has published stories in The Runt, This is Not Where I Belong, The Bohemyth, and Wordlegs. He has just returned from southern Germany, where he experienced a blissful moment of Schadenfreude. He tweets @sjtotterdell
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