The Heaven-Sent Leaf Paperback – Oct 1 2008
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About the Author
Katy Lederer is author of the poetry collection, Winter Sex (Verse Press, 2002) and memoir Poker Face: A Girlhood Among Gamblers (Crown, 2003), which Publishers Weekly included as Best Nonfiction Books of 2003 and Esquire Magazine named one of its eight Best Books of the Year 2003. She holds degrees from University of California at Berkeley and Iowa Writers' Workshop.
Most Helpful Customer Reviews on Amazon.com (beta)
Katy Lederer, poet and author, is also....
To learn to keep distance.
To learn to keep drear managerial impulse away from the animal mind.
Along the dark edge of this reason. Along the dark edge of this mind's little prison,
inside of its bars now a silky white cat.
Crawling in its little cage.
Inside of its cage is the bright light of morning.
Inside of its cage is the 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.
Lederer titles more than one poem, "Brainworker." There are four of them, in fact. And so you begin to sense the spinning we do in our every day routines, work work work, and then home, and then work work work, and all of it about transaction, some profitable, some not. This collection is money (transaction) put into poetry, and if at first glance that seems an odd fit, Lederer proves the fit is very near like that of a glove.
To know something of Lederer's background explains this fascination. She is also author of several books, notably a memoir, Poker Face: A Girlhood Among Gamblers (Crown, 2003), included on Publishers Weekly list of Best Nonfiction Books of 2003, which tells of her family ties to some of the best known names and faces around Las Vegas poker tables. For the poet, it could just as well have gone the other way, to becoming a card shark, but instead, her pull is toward poetry, even while working as a "brainworker" at a hedge fund in New York City.
I can't speak for her poker-playing skills, no doubt remarkable, but Lederer's poetry chinks into place, has the solid feel of coin on a green felt table, and slips easily into a rich bank of poetic capital. There are plenty of lines such as, "In the wallet of his soul he files the crisp new bills of morning," (from "The Tender Wish to Buy This World") to keep the analogy flowing. And they work, mostly. Although it doesn't take many pages in to already sense the Lederer style: a naming of observations, almost a grocery list at times ("To avoid the whole mendacious thing./To sign yet another financial release."); fragmented sentences and phrases ("Orange-red eyes like small, derogatory suns." "Not wanting to do." "Systemic and assembles with great calm."); questions without answers ("We can't let go? Why are we laughing now?"). This is not an entirely bad thing, not at all. A writer, a poet, seeks to find one's own recognizable voice. A reader can find in it an agreeable echo, a mirror to one's own, and so become a fan. The line to toe here is to not become overly predictable, still leaving room for the occasional surprise.
Lederer's use of the analogy of money as capital to be traded in for pieces and parts of life does not narrow her range. With this premise, she explores the topics all poets adore: love, sex (what more profound transaction!), the daily aspects of a life well or less well lived, and, finally, death. She sets her stage against the backdrop of the big city, but the big city clamor still reverberates against any landscape where people meet. Money is a great symbol and so is not limiting, no more than she who possesses it imbues it with meaning and power. The exchange of value for value, or value for lack of it, resounds through every line, and with it, the echo of a void inside the self, "the lobotomized wishes--/Where brains once were .../Hear the awful racket of their want."
This is a collection of poetry that jingles in the mind like loose coins in a deep pocket long after read. You'll pardon the analogy stretched here, but it is accurate. If on first reading, the poems seem simple enough, almost predictable in style (list-fragment-question), you can't help but find your fingers wandering the linings of that pocket and playing with the coins, testing their value, enjoying the jingle, rubbing them one against the other, until they are warm in the palm and ready for trade. Lederer's poetry is a good value.
There are few better ways to get me to read a book of poetry than to have it blurbed by Liz Willis, one of my favorite contemporary poets. Combine that with the book in question being by Katy Lederer, whom I'd never read before but who is the daughter of Richard Lederer (of the Anguished English books) and sister to Howard Lederer and Annie Duke, poker players extraordinaire, and that's pretty much a guarantee. Given all that, I was pretty sure this wasn't going to be a question of whether I liked it, but how much.
"I am taken by the minster
He lays his soul to rest.
He is clean as a dove and is lovely.
Like the general drift,
He is caught, as if in a net.
Welted with his longing
For his archangelic mother,
Like a people or father
He loses her among the waves...."
("The General Drift")
Lederer plays it straight and simple here, choosing her words with care and her images with precision, and in the end that is all we can ask of poems. These are solid pieces, and very very good ones, and the only real snipe I'd take at the book is that it seems like it was a little too loosely-tied for a concept piece. That, however, is not a problem with the work itself as much as it is how the work is packaged; these poems still demand your time and attention, and this is guaranteed to hit my best reads of the year list somewhere. ****
Remember The Twilight Zone's "It's A Cookbook!!!" line? Had that same feeling when I realized "the Heaven Sent Leaf" was a dollar bill. Or maybe a $20. ;^_^
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