Originally published in the May/June 2014 issue of Flashpoint Magazine.
“Lexington right now is such a hothouse of fascinating writers in general,” says Bianca Spriggs, “especially poets.”
Frank X. Walker wins the NAACP image award. Nikky Finney earns a National Book award. Lexington is not only proud, but recognized. These poets, and others like them, dedicate thousands of hours and gallons of blood to their craft. They absolutely deserve their applause. But how did they get there? Where does one go to open such a vein and not just spill it into the dirt? Lexington’s academic history of poetry has been recorded. It’s brightly polished; the lesser-known poets and venues scrubbed off like grime. This story’s about the grime.
Seven years ago, Bulgarian software engineer Katerina Stoykova-Klemer stapled a flyer to the Common Grounds bulletin board (the one between the restrooms). “Dear Fan of Poetry,” it read, “I am happy to announce a newly created Lexington Poetry Club. This club does not have a name – we can choose a name during our first meeting.” She had even cut tabs with contact info, like a band in search of a drummer. Katerina and Colin Watkins orchestrated this event expecting a few to turn out. A few did. And then a few more and more after that. Soon “Poezia” included poets and prose writers and overflowed the Common Grounds meeting room. The prose group split to Tuesday night (and it’s overflowing, too!). But something else came out of Poezia.
“I hadn’t written anything in 11 years,” Katerina says, “then suddenly, on my way to work one day in December 2006,a poem came over me and I puled into a Kroger parking lot and wrote it. It felt as thought a very important part of me was about to return to life.” When I asked how she thinks Poezia has helped Lexington, she simply said, “Poezia is completely free and open to the public […] It seems a group like that would help any town.” Meanwhile…
And while Katerina finds herself wrapped up in poetry’s soft embrace, rediscovering the beauty of its power, a fire burned on the other side of town. In 2008, Eric Scott Sutherland organized a powwow to express his frustration with the government. On the fifth anniversary of the Iraq War, Al’s Bar birthed Sutherland’s baby, the Holler Poets Series. “It was just electric,” Sutherland said in an interview with the Herald Leader’s Tom Eblen. “You could sense it.”
If you’ve never been to Holler, imagine a bourbon-soaked family reunion in an apalachian hillside where the black sheep of the family gets a microphone. “Holler is truly a celebration of poetry and poets,” Katerina says. “It’s a lot more than an open mic event—it’s a communion, a showcase, a reward for our hard work and craft, but also a reward for the mere fact that we’re poets. What could be more wonderful than that?”
“What would Lexington poetry be without Poezia and Holler?” says Christopher McCurry, Junior Editor at Accents Publishing. “From my limited vantage point, I see, at the center, a group of community-oriented, passionate people who have created avenues and venues for artists of all kinds to express themselves and provide opportunities for growth.”
“Lexington’s poetry scene has grown from an underground community to a vibrant one,” says Two of Cups Press founder Leigh Anne Hornfeldt. “It used to be difficult to find reading series and open mics. That’s not the case anymore: there are many welcoming venues for poets.” In fact, those in the Lexington Poetry scene family take Accents and Holler for granted that those outside might not know about them. And that’s because, as far as Leigh Anne Hornfeldt hinted, they’re no longer underground.
But the crazy thing about Lexington poetry is that it surfaces faster than it has any right to, and the combination of support and talent means that what does rise to the top deserves to. A couple issues ago, Flashpoint covered Teen Howl, the poetry series created by Elizabeth Beck and Jay McCoy. “Teen Howl is one of the most important things happening in this town,” says Katerina Stoykova-Klemer. “These young poets are our future National Book Award winners, our future Teachers of English and creative writing.” In fact, some Teen Howlers in Lexington’s SCAPA program performed a poetry performance in the guide of a play at LaFayette High School. The best part? They raised the money themselves on Kickstarter and producd it on their own.
Then there’s the Wild Women of Poetry Slam which hits every year as part of the Kentucky Women Writers Conference, miscellaneous poetry readings and open mics at the Carnegie Center or as part of a celebration for Limestone, UK’s literary journal. And for indie publishers in and around Lexington, it’s almost too many to count: Winged City, Rabbit Catastrophe, Old Cove, Finishing Line, Larkspur, Broadstone. And all of this comes out of a community that encourages ambition and nurtures talent. “I’ve never witnessed a more embracing and passionate community of poets and writers,” says Leigh Anne Hornfeldt.
“There has definitely been an upswing of involvement and inclusivity,” says Bianca Spriggs. “A lot of this has to do with the mutual support of poets who really care about one another’s work and show this through regularly attending workshops, readings, and open mics. This is an attentive, consistent scene now with a lot of options for poets in terms of venue and publication whereas ten years ago, there was a fairly significant gap in that department. […] Poets from all over the state seem to naturally gravitate towards the city and bring with them a wealth of material. So, I see Lexington as integral to the canon of Kentucky poetry.”
“Lexington is the beating heart,” adds Leigh Anne. “This is where the blood pumps.”
Original Printed Pages
As published in Flashpoint Magazine. Photographs credited within the first spread.