Thursday, June 4, 2015


If you know a teacher, or anyone concerned with teachers, or anyone who loves good poetry or books that dig into the challenges of work from a worker's point of this book and give it to them, even if it's just yourself.

In LIVELIHOOD, Phoebe MacAdams writes poems about her experiences as a teacher, a few about teaching in an elite school with privileged though still humanly portrayed students, but most about subsequently teaching in a huge "inner city" school in Los Angeles.

The poems are variously, and sometimes simultaneously, poignant, humorous, insightful, engaging, original, entertaining, informative, dramatic, narrative, lyrical, enlightening and moving. Each articulates what it's like for a sensitive, intelligent, mature and brilliant woman to face the challenges a teacher faces under trying and sometimes tragic circumstances—and always humbly, honestly and humanly.

Here are just two samples:


This month
four students have been killed:
Steve and Frank shot by random bullets,
Mercy killed by a hit and run driver
and last night, talking to Jeffrey
and his family at back-to-school night,
I heard about his best friend, Mario,
shot last week.
Jeffrey put his head down,
eyelashes filled with tears.
Jeffrey writes poems
about forbidden passion
and fighting fires, which he loves.

Dianna moved out of her house,
away from her alcoholic mother
and abusive father. She is having twins.
Lydia's mom has cancer.
This is a hard season for my students,
who grow anyway.
This is for them.


Nobody could tell me anything
when I was young.
            I knew it all and
            followed the poets
            to Paris, Tunisia, Algeria,
            New York, and San Francisco.
I had two children,
a nervous breakdown, a divorce,
but it was okay.
            I settled down, wrote poems,
            taught school.
            I remarried. We bought a house and
            last week I bought a new car.
Now I don't know it all
or even much.
I welcome all advice.
            Sometimes I try to advise my students
            but now they, too, know it all.


Anonymous said...

Delightful--thanks! Aram

Lally said...

my pleasure, Aram, a knockout of a book

Jack Andreozzi said...

You've had a troubling life however I see a woman who traveled,(education and joy),written poetry,(wonderful poetry)had children,(the best poetry) and found someone.And of course got the American, new car,etc.And finally found herself....You know that you know nothing (Socrates).
She is a role model and seems to be where she belongs,helping children.using her teaching and poetry to guide them.


Phoebe said...

Many thanks, Michael, for this review - a "knockout" of a review!!! I am going to copy and put it somewhere handy to refer to whenever I feel blue. An e-mail follows!
You absolutely made my day.
And thank everyone who wrote comments.
Best, Phoebe

susan suntree said...

Phoebe came to my Freshman Composition class at East Los Angeles College to talk about teaching,writing poetry, and a living a life with a wide embrace. My students had read and loved Livelihood. A few had attended Roosevelt HS where Phoebe had taught. Nothing captures the emotional, insightful rhythms of the classroom like poetry. And nothing replaces the impact of a poet reading her own work, talking about her life, and sharing her insights about the influence of teaching on the teacher's development as a person, and her case, as a poet. Not just a wonderful book, a useful book.