Bread and Circus

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Bread and Circus
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by Airea D Matthews

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Drawing upon economics, theology, and psychology, Bread and Circus explores the lived experiences of those impacted by poverty and racial injustice. This poetry collection is innovative not only in its dissection of established ideals but also in its experimentation with poetic form, with a highlight being blackout poems made by subverting key words in economic texts. The final section of the collection is an especially moving series on collective grief and hope. 

-Alyssa S., GSSWSR '24

A powerful collection of autobiographical poems from Yale Young Poets Award Winner and Philadelphia's Poet Laureate Airea D. Matthews about the economics of class and its failures for those rendered invisible by it.

As a former student of economics, Airea D. Matthews was fascinated and disturbed by 18th-century Scottish economist Adam Smith, and his magnum opus The Wealth of Nations. Bread and Circus is a direct challenge to Smith's theory of the invisible hand, which claims self-interest is the key to optimal economic outcomes. By juxtaposing redacted texts by Smith and the French Marxist Guy Debord with autobiographical prose and poems, Bread and Circus demonstrates that self-interest fails when people become commodities themselves, and shows how the most vulnerable--including the author and her family--have been impacted by that failure. A layered collection to be read and reread, with poems that range from tragic to humorous, in forms as varied and nuanced as the ideas the book considers, Bread and Circus explores the area where theory and reality meet.

Timely, ambitious, and relevant, Bread and Circus is a brilliant intellectual and artistic contribution to an ongoing conversation about American inequality, for fans of Elizabeth Alexander, Natalie Diaz, Eve Ewing, and Gregory Pardlo.

Publication Date: 
May 30, 2023