Thorough & Efficient by Peter E. Murphy is a collection of poetry dedicated to Murphy’s experience as an educator. Something from the back matter which must be noted is that “Peter E. Murphy gives us a real depiction of the malaise of so called ‘inner city’ education…” continuing with “If there’s any heroism here, it is that Murphy never romanticizes his job or his students, which is probably why he lasted so long.” In this collection Murphy brings to light several of the tribulations an educator may face in a substandard socio-economical demographic.
Right from the get go, Murphy does not guise or sugar coat his experiences. The first poem titled “Dump”, Murphy brings to light and makes slight light of a ‘gross’ reality. He is forced to use his eloquence to communicate the fact that someone has been defecating around the school. The biggest question in “Dump” was “How’d he do it? Everyone asked, not why?” Ending the piece he leaves us with these statements echoing in our minds “…It brings out the best in us./one teacher joked. Another called it art.” In “Dump” the reader is forced to be cognizant of Murphy’s and many other’s realities. He takes a depraved act, such as a student defecating around the school, and not only presents it as commonplace, but jests upon the subject relaying another teacher’s comparison to this act as being “art.”
Another piece that will rip an unsuspecting reader from the comfy confines of their reading chair is “Bomb”. Murphy sets the stage that bomb scares commonly occurred. In an act of mercy, the teacher of the poem, presumably Murphy, takes a student whom is wheelchair-bound from the rain and drive her home. Not this act of kindness is what is important but that when (Murphy) “you fold her chair away and drive her home./No one misses you./No one asks where you had gone.” This poem is an example of the multi tiered problems inner-city educators face. Not only is it difficult to go on every day teaching when being ripped out of the classroom for several bomb scares (or ‘malicious’ pulls as Murphy reports in two poems about false fire alarms also being commonplace) but there is an overwhelming feeling that no one cares. The educator’s disappearance, which was an act of goodwill, went overlooked in the sense that it was a good deed but also that the educator went missing.
In “Safe Sex” Murphy is aware of his abilities, circumstantially, to mold minds. It’s a sad occurrence that he knows that the subject is a lost cause, but should be saluted that he is not living under the guise of any delusions. More poignant than the surface issues being brought up in “Safe Sex” is the microcosmic anecdotal last stanza. Murphy relays a conversation with one of his students named Chastity and asking her “Do you know what your name means?” with her one word answer “No”, an observer would loose sight of there being any hope what-so-ever for these inner-city students.
Murphy ends the collection with a piece entitled “Names”. This is one big catalogue verse of names, presumably of students. The piece is arraigned in a lyrically appealing order and is void of any punctuation. Aside of being a salute to or testament of past students, the actual meaning of the piece could be perceived many ways. What importance these particular names may have in actuality is unknown because it is just a catalogue…However, one could use it as a frame work or foundation to set the stage for the complete collection and possible (undoubtedly) is a reference to race. The book as a whole is color blind and it is my opinion that Murphy uses “Names” as a way to let the reader know “who” he is talking about or “who” are the actual victims of these poems/the socio-economic reality/the school system.
Thorough & Efficient is a must read for educators and skeptics of educational systems. As the back matter suggests, there is no romanticizing of the reality…the book is void of wisps of works such as The Freedom Writers and movies like Lean On Me. Thorough & Efficient as the title suggests is thorough and efficient, raw and free of sugar coating. More over than being an excellent conduit to express ‘what goes on’ in “those” schools, Thorough & Efficient should be on the syllabus for every to-be educator and also should be required reading for disgruntled educators. And, for those middle-class suburban educators who protest and go on strike for the littlest of things, hypnotized by unions (because we know the industry of education is akin to working in coal mines, so they need a union), wearing their red shirts, complaining about the most trite of things…you need to read this book and see what real hardship is about and what real educators have to deal with. Massive accolades for Murphy for getting through 29 years of teaching at Atlantic City High School and as the back matter suggests Murphy (and educators like Murphy) is a hero in his own right.
Thorough & Efficient (ISBN: 978-0-9723943-4-5) published in 2008 by Jane Street Press. Throughout the review I used italics in addition to quotation marks when referencing the title of a poem in order to separate them from content quotation.