Counsel from a Self-Help Guru

I haven’t come here purposed with defending
Your excesses or manifold omissions,
Or promise all of you a happy ending:
I’m here to explicate a few conditions

That bear on how you’ll elevate your game.
If you repeat your most egregious errors,
The end-result will likely be the same
And reinforce the existential terrors

That seem to plague you on a daily basis.
Your equanimity is all that’s needed
To bring about a salutary stasis
And guarantee that you won’t be defeated

In your pursuit of laudable results.
Protect your children as you would your lives,
Be resolute, and act like true adults;
Take notice when a helping hand arrives.

When raiders storm your vessel, man the decks
And throw those bastards straight into the sea.
Write clearly when you’re filling out your checks,
And mail them to my box A.S.A.P.



Adapting to Circumstances

A gentle rain—and then it starts to pour,
And underfoot are roiling cats and dogs.
Aquatic creatures leave their flooded bogs
And settle just outside your kitchen door. 

A well-constructed roof will keep the rain
From leaking in and brings a certain level
Of comfort; still, you can’t forget the devil
That’s skulking in the yard to make your brain

Believe the world is coming to an end.
You don’t like snakes or frogs, or even turtles,
But bear in mind that these are minor hurdles
That someday may regard you as a friend.

So let them live their lives without the thought
That you’ll forever find them most disgusting,
Since all your iron-clad beliefs are rusting,
And all your best-laid plans have come to naught.

You say you liked things just the way they were
When every lesser creature knew its place.
You never know!—a sudden change of pace
Might bring about conditions you prefer.

Be flexible; give everything a try
Before you go ahead and rush to judge,
For sometimes all that’s needed is a nudge
To budge the plank that’s lodged inside your eye.

The lot you own is woodsy pan-suburban,
And not a place you’d want to lose your soul.
Maintain at least a semblance of control:
Don’t let your mind start spinning like a turbine.



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.

NOTE TO READERS: If you enjoyed this poem or other content, please consider making a donation to the Society of Classical Poets.

The Society of Classical Poets does not endorse any views expressed in individual poems or commentary.

CODEC Stories:

21 Responses

  1. Roy Eugene Peterson

    I think you showed me a new career pattern. I could title it “Gifted Guru: Personal Problems Quickly Solved!” “Adapting to Circumstances” offers wise advice that seems to fit with your “longtime gardener” pursuits. Both are well-phrased, well-rhymed, and well-paced.

  2. Joseph S. Salemi

    Kip Anderson can’t write a bad poem (he may have, but I’ve never seen it). Both of these are well structured but flexible, and clear without being simple-minded.

    Both poems express their ideas perfectly, so there’s little to comment on in that direction. But I’d like to say something about Anderson’s diction. Unlike many modern poets, he’s not afraid of words. He doesn’t have a blacklist of words he cannot use, or ones that are forbidden because his audience might not understand them. He will of course not use a word if its stress pattern won’t fit his chosen meter, but that’s just good craftsmanship.

    There are a few diction choices here that strike me. In the first line of “Counsel…” he uses “purposed” as an adjective that is separated from the pronoun it governs — an elegant structure that is adept and classy. Then he mentions “manifold omissions,” a nice combination of Anglo-Saxon and Latin. And he follows through with six e-words: ending, explicate, elevate, egregious, existential, and equanimity. And then there is an almost mocking tone of pretentiousness in “salutary stasis” and “laudable results.” In the final quatrain he uses “man” as a verb — utterly verboten and taboo today; and then writes “bastards” in the next line, which is a nice word that too many prissy and supersensitive poets wouldn’t touch.

    The second poem has words like “aquatic,” “skulking,” “naught,” and the great “woodsy pan-suburban.” To me these show a freedom from the shackles of postmodernist barebones plainness. And look what he does with “judge” and “nudge” in the penultimate quatrain — he follows up this unexpected rhyme with “budge” immediately in the next line! That’s what in boxing is called a
    “one-two punch.”

    I like his stuff. But I’ve said that before.

    • C.B. Anderson

      Thanks for your thoughts, Joseph. If I work at it, I might be able to come up with a bad poem — perhaps if I delve into my extensive archives. If I were afraid of words, I wouldn’t be doing this sort of thing at all.

  3. jd

    I found both these poems filled with good advice on coping penned in an intelligent and creative way. Coping has replaced hoping, I think. My favorite line is, “To budge the plank that’s lodged inside your eye” for its message but also for the picture it conjures. Thank you for them.

    • C.B. Anderson

      I agree, jd, that coping, these days, seems more productive than hoping. The advice in the first poem consists mostly of worn-out nostrums, wholesale rather than retail, but everybody has to make a living somehow.

  4. Cynthia Erlandson

    Lots of fun, C.B.! As Joseph does, I like your vocabulary. In fact, I would guess that until now, I’ve not seen the marvelous word “salutary” in print outside of The Book of Common Prayer. 🙂

    • C.B. Anderson

      “Salutary” is a useful word, Cynthia, but compare it with “salutory,” which is something else again.

  5. Stephen M. Dickey

    Is the reference to checks supposed to have us infer that the clientele is senescent?
    One thing that you do in “Adapting to Circumstances” is create ad hoc proverbial observations (“A well-constructed roof will keep the rain/From leaking in and brings a certain level/Of comfort”), something you do in numerous other poems. Some other writing that I admire does this too. It’s very hard to do well. So hard, that I haven’t managed to do it yet.
    Otherwise, the very first line of “Adapting” is so obviously fitting as a first-line development that, if it didn’t now already exist, one would have to invent it.

    • C.B. Anderson

      No, Stephen, just that the clients have checking accounts. You can’t have failed to notice that many of our familiar sayings (e.g. Stone walls do not a prison make) have their origins in poetry. Invention is the daughter of necessity.

  6. Brian A. Yapko

    Both of these poems are an absolute pleasure to read, C.B. “Counsel from a Self-Help Guru” offers some not only sage but aggressively potent advice — I especially like throwing those raider bastards right into the sea — but you never have to worry about him being a manipulative wolf in sheep’s clothing. I initially thought this would be sharp satire of infomercials but found the advice increasingly useful and not coddling. And then, of course, comes the bill. But, for me, that negates nothing. Like the best doctors, he expects to get paid. We “true adults” can handle that and I think what we get back in terms of moral and psychological clarity makes it a real bargain.

    I love the “Adapting to Circumstances” poem as well. Although the setting is quite different, the theme is strikingly similar: put on your big-boy pants and deal with stuff. I get the feeling you’ve picked up some secrets of survival through the years, C.B. Thank you for sharing some of them.

    • C.B. Anderson

      Yes, Brian. Raiders do have a certain amount of honor, for they don’t pretend to be something they’re not. As for payment for good counsel, well of course everyone has to make a living, but (and correct me if I’m wrong) I don’t think it is recorded that Jesus ever asked his disciples for monetary payment.

      Secrets for survival? I don’t know. Maybe just something like, know when to keep your head down.

  7. David Whippman

    As the Beatles found out many years ago, self-help gurus are aptly named: all too often, they help themselves! Thanks for an entertaining read, CB.

      • Julian D. Woodruff

        Yes, CB. I’m reminded of Schulz’s Lucy Van Pelt–although I doubt she bothered to think up anything as useful as your advice.
        I noticed in this poem (until the penultimate stanza) a deliberate and consistent extension of sentences across stanza breaks, to the end of the following line. I wonder if you intended to convey something like “And furthermore …”

      • C.B. Anderson

        Nah, Julian, it was just garden-variety enjambment. Using structural ploys to create a mood or to suggest a notion usually doesn’t work anyway. This is why authors so often have to explain their intentions when someone comments about such ploys.

  8. Susan Jarvis Bryant

    I love these tongue-in-cheek linguistic treats. I am drawn to poets who offer an element of surprise, and your poetry never fails to surprise me. I must say, I read the pairing of turtles/hurdles with shock and horror… until I realized that I was reading it in English-speak. In Texan-speak it’s a perfect rhyme. C.B., thank you for two highly entertaining, beautifully crafted, inspirational poems.

  9. C.B. Anderson

    I’m happy to speak colloquial Texan, Susan. There are many such voiced/unvoiced pairs. Besides T/D there is P/B, S/Z, K/G etc., and they usually make perfectly good final consonants for end rhymes.

  10. Daniel Kemper

    I’ve always wondered. If you’re getting help from someone else (e.g. a motivational speaker), then how is that SELF-help?

    A timeless scam, well depicted.

    OTOH, If they weren’t meant to be fleeced, God would not have made them sheep. lol

    • C.B. Anderson

      Yeah, Daniel, I can’t believe how many of the commentors took the counsel at face-value.

      • Joseph S. Salemi

        Kip, I have noticed this too. The problem is that so many people are helplessly naive, earnest, sincere, and utterly incapable of grasping irony, sarcasm, and satire. They take everything they hear and read at plain face value, and always spin it as “positive.”

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published.

Captcha loading...

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.