The Heaven-Sent Leaf
The 45 almost-sonnets in this second collection from Lederer (Winter Sex) meditate on money and commerce (“The earth is a dollar and the moon is a silvery coin”), wondering how to find meaning as a cog in a capitalist machine. At times, the poems yearn to be free of big business, but the vibrancy of this series is found in the viscous push-pull between money and Eros; the tension sings (“I’ve brought you all these presents which I’ve placed beneath this/ flowering tree:/ Bright red box, bright blue box, and a small vial of Botox”). In an era when business asks, “Who stole my cheese?” these poems are populated with superbly chosen allusions to finance and literature. “Heaven-sent Leaf” comes from Goethe; “Brainworker,” the title of several poems, was coined by the influential economist J.K. Galbraith. Nietzsche and Lyn Hejinian, among others, also appear. At times, Lederer’s verse is sparkling, though a meandering prosiness sometimes flattens the lines. But at her best, Lederer combines musical lines with excitingly jerky leaps of thought, claiming for poetry a fact that usually seems farthest from it: ‘There is, in the heart, the hard-rendering profit.’
A fully-realized lyrical examination of different forms of commerce—financial, emotional, physical and amatory; ultimately, The Heaven-Sent Leaf becomes an examination of the forms of commerce between the self and the world the poet trades in. Written with a Stevenesque verve (and restraint), The Heaven-Sent Leaf turns out to be a book uncannily on-target for our times.
Katy Lederer’s The Heaven-sent Leaf carries us through the cool halls of commerce into the richly impacted language of desire. In this architecture of financial and romantic speculation, tenderness brushes up against other things tendered. The result is not exactly an erotics of money—or a balance sheet of love’s trades and trade-offs—but a feeling for the shared roots of money and blood, lineage and “brainwork,” poetry and speculation. The rich counter-tensions in these poems build with fugue-like intensity, driving our attention deep into the green-leaved groves of personal and global futures.
Sparkling and strange, acrobatic but never evasive, clear-eyed about its own emotional life even as it takes semantics for a tumble, Katy Lederer’s book-length sequence of not-quite-sonnets measures up to its contemporaries as a chronicle of love in and out of a life, in dramatis personae and in the poet’s own soul. The Heaven-Sent Leaf excels all those contemporaries, and swerves away from almost all its precedents, in following at once the love and the money.
These lyrically crisp poems chronicle the poet (gendered female) as “brainworker” in contemporary New York. Where is prayer? Where nature? Where love? They are not to be found on the dizzying streetscape as seen from the top of an office building, but in the head and the heart of the poet buffeted by money-drenched dreams. “I hate to be alone” Lederer writes, in the perfect “Parable of Times Square.” But in this poem, and indeed this book, the remedy to the cold solitude of cash-getting is not other people but poetry.