It is my extreme pleasure to welcome friend and fellow poet John C. Mannone, recipient of the 2017 HWA Scholarship. You will find this is a different sort of column essay than usual. For those of you interested in history, you’ll enjoy the scholarly touches he has incorporated. Many of my own poems are inspired by studies in history, and certainly poets should appreciate where he is coming from. John has work in Poetry South, Blue Fifth Review, New England Journal of Medicine, Peacock Journal, Gyroscope Review, Baltimore Review, Pedestal, Pirene’s Fountain, Event Horizon, Eye To The Telescope, and others. He’s the winner of the 2017 Jean Ritchie Fellowship in Appalachian literature and the recipient of two Weymouth writing residencies. He has three poetry collections: Apocalypse (Alban Lake Publishing, July 2015) won third place for the 2017 Elgin Book Award; Disabled Monsters (The Linnet’s Wings Press, December 2015) featured at the 2016 Southern Festival of Books; and Flux Lines (Celtic Cat Publishing, 2018)—love-related poems using science metaphors. He’s been awarded two Joy Margrave Awards for Nonfiction, and nominated for several Pushcart, Rhysling, and Best of the Net awards. He edits poetry for Abyss & Apex, Silver Blade, and Liquid Imagination. He’s an amateur astronomer and professor of physics near Knoxville, TN. http://jcmannone.wordpress.com
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Evolution and Description of an Historical Novella with Dark Elements: Fragments
John C. Mannone
History informs some of my speculative work, especially my dark war poems. I could talk about my full-length poetry collection, Sticks & Stones (unpublished), which is about the tragedy and consequence of war throughout the history of man, but instead I want to discuss a more recent project, Fragments, that focuses on the Civil War. It was inspired by an overwhelming emotional experience I had while visiting the Antietam National Battlefield in Sharpsburg, MD, a few years ago, which compelled me to write about it. It is a quest for answers.
Fragments, a literary work with extensive speculative* elements, is an experimental historical novella with three intertwining braids containing a seamless integration of multi-genre pieces: (1) the narrator’s memoir discourse in the form of personal, meditative, and lyric essays, and poems, set in modern times in the South, (2) historical inserts, anecdotes, and poems, and (3) a long short story set in the South, but during the Civil War, which also contains multi-genre works including storytelling—short stories, stories spawned from the main character’s dream, as well as other short fiction (micro and flash).
In certain places—knots in the braids—the narrator interacts with characters through various devices such as in (i) the narrator’s flashback to the Civil War battlefield, as if he has PTSD, which is described in meditative essay and the poem, “Physics is Easier than History;” (ii) the convergence of General Relativity, premonition, and magical realism to facilitate an interaction between the narrator and his alter ego on the Antietam battlefield through personal essay and poetry; (iii) a paranormal short story involving an encounter with the ghosts of fallen soldiers at Gettysburg, where the main character’s brother was killed; (iv) premonitions and dreams connecting the offspring of the narrator’s grandson with the descendant of the main character; and (v) an interview with Abraham Lincoln in a piece of imaginative nonfiction in the form of a prose poem, “Emancipation” (which was nominated for a 2017 Best of the Net by the Eye To The Telescope editors).
The structure of the Fragments is fragmented (yet contiguous), but the content is also fragmented, proverbially. The fragments in the novella span many geographic, political, religious, cultural, and even psychological issues. Of course, the story of conflict between the Union and the Confederacy are two of the greatest fragments, which resulted in the tearing of the very fabric of this nation, as well as the bond between two brothers fighting on opposite sides.
* For example, (a) the horror-fantasy flash fiction, as part of a personal essay, called “The House Boat”—influenced by Dante’s and Stephen King’s works—addresses racial bigotry, (b) the horror short story, “The Quality of Mercy,” heard by main character as his grandfather tells it, involves their ancestor—a slave ship owner, and (c) a Frankensteinian nightmare dreamt by the main character after his coming home from the war as an amputee, in the short story, “The Price of Glory” (See below).
Research Notes & Advice
It’s important when doing historical work that there are no anachronisms and that there is period accuracy. The credibility of the piece often hangs on these details. And though the Internet has been useful, it is rather limited. A good amount of my research came from (i) texts purchased from a used bookstore, (ii) documentary films, and (iii) classic novellas on the topic, such as The Red Badge of Courage (Stephen Crane). Beware of the (iv) Wikipedia. Though usually a good place to start, consult their primary sources to be certain. I have found this resource wanting in both history and science. And of course, (v) libraries are very important.
More Sample Work
Altered Reality Magazine
“The Price of Glory”
At Bull Run, spectators gathered on the sidelines
to cheer with the generals, as if at a football match
where only gully mud could stain the uniforms.
At Sumter, the April bombs only made noise,
here, muskets would remain silent
for a few moments before they spat fire,
before they spewed smoke as iron dragons,
before their shiny bayonet-horns would glisten
something other than silver—that rage of crimson—
the boys simply stared at each other
in the sweltered July air, feet heavy in the high grass,
faces distorted with hunger. They fell
out of ranks, the blue and the gray,
at the edge of the woods
facing a breezeless field
to pick blackberries; for a moment,
blood red juice on their lips.
On the way home from Sharpsburg, MD
I sink as I march through the woods, wish
the ground to swallow me. Musket smoke
still hangs in my nostrils.
Away from there,
I lift my eyes to pray, air crisp with sweet
pawpaw leaves and syrup-colored maples,
see a tanager in the pines, hear the oriole’s
pure, liquid whistles, rich flute and piccolo,
flutter-drums of passion, beating of wings.
But the buzz around those carcasses
maggot my thoughts. I am running now,
away from there,
away from cornfields scattered with ears
pressed to the ground, hair silked with blood,
bodies husked in gray and blue;
away from the fields littered with death.
I feel my own reaper close behind
swinging his scythe. My arm severed
to shoulder bone; my limb thrown
among other arms and legs onto piles,
only its ghost remains to taunt me.
But today, I am coming home.
Away from there.
Won second place (together with two other poems) in the 2014 Knoxville Writers’ Guild Poetry Contest
The Price of Glory
Black nimbus clouds billowed over Ox Hill; lightning strobed the cannons and the men. Kaboom! Slap-thunder shook the ground and cannons recoiled through the blue gray smoke as they coughed fire. Lead balls flew out of their throats flat across the rain-drenched battlefield; gouged the wet earth as they bounced, then bludgeoned soldiers ripping hearts out of the Blue and the Gray.
Medics scrambled among the dead and wounded. Heaven cried with thunder, but the sheets of rain could not wash the blood away.