cover image Bread and Circus

Bread and Circus

Airea D. Matthews. Scribner, $26 (112p) ISBN 978-1-66801-145-4

The unflinching second collection from Matthews (Simulacra) interweaves autobiographical poems with erasures of texts by Adam Smith, the father of free-market economics, and Guy Debord, a Marxist social theorist, to create a vigorous and personal refutation of late-stage capitalism. These pieces question the limits of choice and opportunity for those on the margins, positioning Matthews’s lived experience as a Black woman from a working-class family in relation to Smith’s ideas about economic self-interest and Debord’s reduction of human lives to commodities. Confessional poems capture the emotional calculus family members must make under economic strain, such as the father who loses his job one night and stops at a bar to consider his options: “to pilfer time through a bottle/ then plot provision—/ three square, four souls—/ strategizing who to feed/ to whom.” Other entries situate family trauma within a wider economic context: “in 1979 after OPEC raised the price of oil/ my father rolled up the hem of his pants and handed me a needle... and i had a choice/ shoot him up or suffer worse.” Full of humane wisdom, this powerful volume forces readers to acknowledge systemic inequity. (May)