Finding the poetry in finance

Poet Katy Lederer

TEXT OF INTERVIEW

Tess Vigeland: We've all witnessed a financial boom and one spectacular bust. It is the stuff of drama -- but, poetry? Katy Lederer is a poet who did indeed find inspiration in high finance. Lederer worked for six years as a hedge fund recruiter in New York. She recently left and now has a book of poems out. It's called "The Heaven-Sent Leaf." Welcome to the program.

Katy Lederer: Thanks so much for having me.

Vigeland: How did you come to write about high finance and money?

Lederer: I studied poetry at the Iowa Writers' Workshop and I was basically just doing my poet thing until I was about 30 and I just wanted security and health insurance, and I applied to work at a hedge fund. And while I was there, you know, I obviously learned a lot about finance and ended up writing about it.

Vigeland: Your book is called "The Heaven-Sent Leaf" and we had one of our producers read a bit from the title poem. Let's take a listen.

Marketplace Producer:

The speculation of contemporary life.
The teeming green of utterance.

To feel this clean,
This dream-eclat.

There is, in the heart, the hard-rendering profit.
As if we were plucking the leaves from the trees.

Let us think of the soft verdure of this spirit of this age as now inside of us and swollen by spring rain.
To imagine oneself as a river.

To imagine oneself as a stretch of cool water,
pouring into a basin or brain.

And if one knows one is not free?
One crawls from the back of the head to the river.

And places one's pinkie oh so cautiously in.

Vigeland: So "The Heaven-Sent Leaf" -- we're talking about money, right?

Lederer: Yes. That comes from Goethe's "Faust" actually, and it's basically a description of paper money.

Vigeland: The printing of money is certainly a big topic right now as the Fed does a lot of it.

Lederer: In the Goethe, actually what happens in this scene is that an emperor is having economic problems and Mephistopheles says, 'why don't you print these contracts based on the gold that's under the ground in your kingdom that hasn't yet been discovered?' And in a way this is an interesting version of a futures contract -- an I.O.U. -- highly relevant and obviously goes to show you, as I think people have realized, these bubbles have happened throughout history and, you know, you want to hope people are going to learn from this one.

Vigeland: So, how is it that you find money poetic?

Lederer: You know, one of the answers to that question is that money is so un-poetic; it's kind of the opposite of poetry, and as opposites will do, it kind of jogged the other side of things for me. You know, in that kind of very un-poetic space, it sort of inspired me more in a way than being, let's say, in a lush garden or I don't know, a more cliche poetic space.

Vigeland: I detect a little bit of cynicism in some of your work here. Where's that coming from?

Lederer: One of the things actually I studied in college was anthropology, so I couldn't help but bring that a little bit into the hedge fund environment. So, this isn't my natural environment and certainly I had some skepticism; I'd been trained all my life to be very suspicious of that kind of environment and to feel that even if good people go into finance, you'll be corrupted, right. It's like Gollum in "Lord of the Rings" -- you could be a great person and you get that ring of power and you become a slimy, slithery preacher, and you know, you have to kind of keep that ring, that money a little bit separate from yourself or else you will be taken over by it.

Vigeland: Well Katy Lederer, it's been a pleasure speaking with you. Thank you for sharing your poetry. The book is "The Heaven-Sent Leaf." Thanks so much.

Lederer: Thank you.


Katy Lederer poems

Intimacy

These three bridges, like the brain, lit up and heading out toward Brooklyn.

I am slumped in the cab, thinking heady thoughts of heady things.

Like an ostrich. Or like an intellectual thriller.

For example, "Den of Thieves," in which the arbitrageur Michael Milken is at first defined by a health ambition that later in the story turns to plot-driving greed.

It's as if his most natural desire to do good had over many years metastasized, crackling over the phone lines, hiding out in the backseat of his de riguer black limousine, via messenger across the Park, his pulmonary conscience pumping darkly in his greedy heart...

Like a toddler hiding grimly in a closet or a hamper.

Or like the king who fled the palace on the hill that's now ablaze.

Which explains, I guess, the fighter jets that circle overhead.

The surfeit of broadband, as well as this beautiful bed now bereft of our lowly ambition.

I'm lying here, there's no one else, and the flowers that you've given me are wilting in the Slurpee cup.

There is ambient noise.

Noise of jet planes,

Desire.


The Heaven-Sent Leaf

The speculation of contemporary life.
The teeming green of utterance.

To feel this clean,
This dream-eclat.

There is, in the heart, the hard-rendering profit.
As if we were plucking the leaves from the trees.

Let us think of the soft verdure of this spirit of this age as now inside of us and swollen by spring rain.
To imagine oneself as a river.

To imagine oneself as a stretch of cool water,
pouring into a basin or brain.

And if one knows one is not free?
One crawls from the back of the head to the river.

And places one's pinkie oh so cautiously in.


Brainworker

To learn to keep distance.

To learn to keep drear managerial impulse from the animal mind.

Along the dard edge of this reason. Along the dark edge of this mind's little prison, inside of its bars now a silky white cat.

Howling.

Crawling in its little cage.

Inside of its cage is the bright light of disease.

To learn to be an animal. To learn to be that primal.

To know who will slip you the fresh dish of milk.

To long for your manager's written approval.

So soon am I up for my year-end review?

The moon above settles into its shadow.

I am howling at you.

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