Sonnet: On the Brand-X Anthology of Poetry

(a book review in verse)
Scan
Much had I travell’d in the realms of gold
And never found a blessed thing to eat;
For laurels, though they may smell very sweet,
As nourishment – try one? – they leave you cold.

By not one teacher was I ever told
There was a land both lowly and obscene
That Bill Zaranka ruled as his demesne!
His book was sent me by a flame of old

Bought from wherever such odd things were selling;
And now, some decades late, to write I’ve hasted:
For though I know that flowers are for smelling
I were a liar if I kept from telling
How many precious hours and days I’ve wasted
Since first I of Zaranka’s garland tasted.

 

 

The photograph accompanying this encomium is of my own lovingly-worn copy of The Brand-X Anthology of Poetry (William Zaranka, ed.). You should buy a copy; maybe you can find one on eBay or somewhere. I am quite confident that its use here constitutes a fair use under copyright law. (Speaking of which, according to the back cover, the painting that appears on the front cover is “The Full Professors,” by David Werner. It’s worth buying the book just for that.) This book is inexplicably, regrettably, and thoroughly out of print. It is where I first encountered numberless masterworks of English verse like C.L. Edson’s Ravin’s of Piute Poet Poe, perhaps the best read-aloud poem ever written and the single poem I most wish Dylan Thomas had had a chance to perform before his untimely but predictable death:

Once upon a midnight dreary, eerie, scary, I was wary,
I was weary, full of worry, thinking of my lost Lenore,
Of my cheery, airy, faery, fiery dearie — (Nothing more).

I was napping, when a tapping on the overlapping coping,
Woke me grapping, yapping, groping… toward the rapping.
I went hopping, leaping… hoping that the rapping on the coping
Was my little lost Lenore

The English word anthology, as you likely know, derives from a Greek word meaning (more or less) garland:

From Ancient Greek ἀνθολογία (anthología, flower-gathering), from ἀνθολογέω (anthologéō, I gather flowers), from ἄνθος (ánthos, flower) + λέγω (légō, I gather, pick up, collect), coined by Meleager of Gadara circa 60 BCE, originally as Στέφανος (στέφανος (stéphanos, garland)) to describe a collection of poetry, later retitled anthology – see Greek Anthology. Anthologiai were collections of small Greek poems and epigrams, because in Greek culture the flower symbolized the finer sentiments that only poetry can express.

Thus the Wiktionary. Also, you can eat some flowers, and since it’s funnier to taste a garland than to smell one, I wrote that. All of this has little or nothing to do with laurels, which are the leaves of the sweet bay, although the sweet bay itself (also called the laurel) does bear flowers, which are pale yellow-green, about a centimeter in diameter, and rather unprepossessing.

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