Failure to Strive

Do, or do not.  There is no try. —Master Yoda

We’ve traveled far, or so it seems to those
Of us who shy from setting distant goals
Requiring passage through unending rows
Of thornhedge in a maze that tries our souls.

We make what’s easy look so difficult:
We huff and puff, and wring our hands to prove it.
Producing sweat and teardrops to a fault,
We stain ourselves, and nothing can remove it.

We often ask, “Can anything be done
To mitigate the burden of our plight?”
It’s been suggested that we make it fun
Or make a choice to stand our ground and fight.

But if it were as easy done as said,
We would have done it many years ago
And cleared the brush inside a tangled head,
And not have let the poison ivy grow.

We are that which we eat and, too, what eats us,
No matter what pretentious experts think,
For we must face whatever future meets us;
If lucky, we become that which we drink.

When water, wine or whiskey is the choice,
It’s probable that we will choose the last
And hope to knock it back as we rejoice
One day, when every trial has long since passed.



Exercises in Frustration


I knew at once she was the one for me
But wasn’t sure I was the one for her,
And so instead of pressing on I waited.
If not for my perverse timidity,
Which ultimately led her to prefer
A forward loudmouthed oaf, we might have mated.



Pansification: making something more like a pansy. Synonym: wussification.

Too soon the lilac bloom has come and gone,
Short-lived successor to the daffodil
And early herald of the garden phlox.
It’s sad how much we have depended on
The shrinking violets lacking heart and will,
Whose school has no good answer for hard knocks.



My enemies have managed to get back
At me by simply leaving me alone
When I was poised to carry on the fight.
I would have faced the bastards at the crack
Of dawn, but when I rang their telephone
It played a message: Have a lovely night!



C.B. Anderson was the longtime gardener for the PBS television series, The Victory Garden.  Hundreds of his poems have appeared in scores of print and electronic journals out of North America, Great Britain, Ireland, Austria, Australia and India.  His collection, Mortal Soup and the Blue Yonder was published in 2013 by White Violet Press.

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26 Responses

  1. Susan Jarvis Bryant

    C.B., aside from the masterly execution of the art, you have incorporated a wit and wisdom that resonates with me and makes me feel sane. I love these poems!

    • C.B. Anderson

      If I can make you feel sane, Susan, then I have done what I was put here to do. My overall impression is that you are one of the sanest persons whose poems I have had the privilege to read.

  2. Julian D. Woodruff

    Beautifully wry poetry to enviably unstrained rhymes. I suppose, CB, you thought of “But were it done as easily as said”; if so, I’m glad you weren’t tempted (as I might have been).

    • C.B. Anderson

      I don’t quite understand, Julian. Would you please expand on that thought?

      • Julian D. Woodruff

        Simply the way one can make easy an adverb without adding a syllable to the line–something that might stick out a bit in a poem that rigorously adheres to the pentametric standard (“trial” easily read as elided into one syllable). The use of the adjectival form relies on a convention that here, I think, works better than either adverbial alternative.

      • C.B. Anderson

        I figured that out, Julian, in the time between. Of course I was going for the adverbial use of “easy,” and I thank you for sticking around to point that out. A poet does what a poet must do.

  3. Mike Bryant

    CB… they are all wonderful, however, I think you saved the best for last. How irredeemably evil must someone be to deprive us of our revenge? There’s always tomorrow, I suppose. Wow!

  4. Margaret Coats

    I like “Failure to Strive” as just long enough to detail many particulars of the condition, without presenting so many that the analysis becomes exhaustively striven. Especially like the images in lines 15-16, which probably earned you the illustration of the overgrown castle. And, as a wine lover, I learned the new expression “knock it back,” which must apply only to whiskey, as I can’t imagine drinking wine or water that way.

    • C.B. Anderson

      Indeed, Margaret, one may “knock back” a couple of shots, but wine, as an old friend of mine once said, is food, and so must be nibbled at, just as food for thought must be taken with small bites.

  5. Brian Yapko

    C.B., each of these poems is great fun to read. When you combine the image of a ruined castle with a quote from a Jedi warrior you know it’s going to be good. All four poems offer a fine balance of wry wit and keen observation of human nature. “Failure to Strive” is a great centerpiece with a witty title and some memorable lines, including “if lucky, we become that which we drink.” (If true, that would make me coffee.) The other three, though short, offer nice poetic slices of life. I especially like “Disengagement” for the hilarious contrast between the speaker’s exaggerated resentment and the insipidly gracious “Have a lovely night!” All very enjoyable.

    • C.B. Anderson

      As far as I’m concerned, Brian, fun is the name of the game. If writing poems were not fun, then I probably wouldn’t bother doing it.

  6. Joseph S. Salemi

    “Exercises in Frustration” is notable for several reasons. The ABCABC rhyme scheme of each section is unusual, but (like a very dry sherry) it appeals to the sophisticated palate. Also, the poem focuses on three elements of modern paralysis: timidity, effeminacy, and alienation. The first two are interior faults, but the last is external, in the form of being ignored, deplatformed, passed over, and dismissed.

    “Pansification” is a great word. Too many persons have become pansies.

    • C.B. Anderson

      There are no limits, Joseph, as you surely know, to the possible varieties of ethopathy.

  7. Jeff Eardley

    CB, these are a lot of fun and like others, I love “Pansification” and “Clearing the bush inside a tangled head” is something I will be doing more of in 2022. Interesting picture from Evan of the place that Rudolph Hess was brought to in WWII.
    Thank you for a most enjoyable read.

    • C.B. Anderson

      When one clears brush, Jeff, it’s important to get all the roots, lest it regrow.

  8. David Watt

    These poems express truths in life with humor and style.
    Unlike the hand wringers described in ‘Failure to Strive’, you make the difficult look easy.

    • C.B. Anderson

      Sometimes (or even most of the time), David, it is easier to make the difficult look simple than it is to put a shine on a sneaker.

  9. Daniel Kemper


    I enjoyed the pun in the title, “Failure to Strive/Thrive.” The crisp mechanics always delight. I prefer whiskey to wine purely for lack of carbs, but definitely appreciate both. Each time I glance back through the poems there are facets that I enjoy. I’ll not get to them all. But some examples: The fate-sealing lines in “Reticence” are feminine rhymes, the detail of plants like phlox in “Pansification,” and the subtle similarity of theme that sneaks through all the selections.

  10. C.B. Anderson

    I did wonder, Daniel, whether anyone would pick up on the “failure to thrive” echo, which itself is a pseudo-diagnosis plantsmen use when they cannot determine the causes of a plant’s decline.

    Whiskey (which, as a word, is cognate to “water”) may not have carbs, but as a dietary item it should be regarded as a dose of pure fat, which is not necessarily a bad thing.

    The feminine end rhyme in “Reticence” was accidental, not deliberate, and I’ll have you know that pansies and violets are members of the same botanical genus, the genus Viola.

    • C.B. Anderson

      Thank you, Yael. A poet should have no expectation of wealth or fame, but always hopes for an attentive readership.


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