Bread and Circus

Bread and Circus

by Airea D Matthews - Associate Professor and Co-Chair of Creative Writing

Author's website:

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

"Discerning and significant." --Poetry Foundation
"A sharp memoir in verse." --LitHub

This powerful and timely collection of autobiographical poems from Yale Young Poets Award Winner and Philadelphia's former Poet Laureate Airea D. Matthews about the economics of class is a brilliant intellectual and artistic contribution to the ongoing conversation about American inequality.

As a former student of economics, Airea D. Matthews was fascinated and disturbed by 18th-century Scottish economist Adam Smith's magnum opus The Wealth of Nations. Now, she presents 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 personally offers how self-interest fails when it reduces people to commodity and spectacle.

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 asks what it is to have survived, indeed to have flourished, and at what cost. "Full of humane wisdom, this powerful volume forces readers to acknowledge systemic inequity" (Publishers Weekly, starred review) and is ideal for fans of Elizabeth Alexander, Natalie Diaz, Eve Ewing, and Gregory Pardlo.

Publication Date: 
May 30, 2023