Sunday, December 07, 2008

No Money In Poetry? No Poetry In Money?

The New Yorker
Dept. Of Moonlighting

Ballad of the Bubble
by Rebecca Rothbaum

Robert Graves once remarked that just as there is no money in poetry, there is no poetry in money. But Katy Lederer sees it differently. Lederer has just published “The Heaven-Sent Leaf,” a collection of poetry animated by the idea of the economic bubble. “It’s so dry when you read it in the papers, but, really, it’s mythic,” she said recently, on a day that the stock market had dropped three hundred and seventy points. “It’s Icarus, it’s ‘Faust,’ it’s Eros and vanitas. It’s ‘Star Wars’!” If this is not a formula for literary success, it’s good market timing, at least; she might be the John Paulson of verse.

For the past six years, Lederer, who is thirty-six and holds an M.F.A. in poetry from the Iowa Writers’ Workshop, has worked at D. E. Shaw, one of the world’s largest hedge funds, with thirty-six billion dollars under its management. The other day, in her apartment in Prospect Heights, she recalled her decision to take the job: “Everyone I knew in the poetry world was pretty confused, like maybe I had gone crazy.” She had already published a volume of poetry and a memoir, “Poker Face,” which describes her coming-of-age in a family of gamblers (her siblings Howard Lederer and Annie Duke are two of the world’s best poker players). Still, facing her thirtieth birthday, she was bouncing between illegal sublets and living on part-time jobs and peanut-butter sandwiches. “I wanted money,” she said.

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