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Constance Alexander: Celebrating National Poetry Month with ‘the magic of brevity’

Katerina Stoykova speaks with soft-spoken authority, the flutter of her r’s an indication that she is not a native Kentuckian. Currently residing in Lexington, she was born in Burgas, Bulgaria, a city on the Black Sea coast. She immigrated to America in 1995 and for more than a decade worked for various high-tech companies. Her passion for language, however, eventually led her to Louisville’s Spalding University and a Master of Fine Arts degree in Poetry.

(Photo by Kate He)

Since then, she has taken bold steps to launch prose and poetry writing groups in Lexington, and to found Accents, an independent press “for brilliant voices,” according to her website. She also hosts “Accents,” a radio show for literature, art, and culture on WRFL, Lexington.

Her own writing moves gracefully between Bulgarian and English. Her first book, The Air Around the Butterfly contains her poems, first written in English and then translated into Bulgarian. She has other poetry books to her credit, and also edited The Season of Delicate Hunger: Anthology of Contemporary Bulgarian Poetry, for which she translated the works of 29 of the 32 included authors.

As editor of a unique anthology, Bigger Than They Appear: Anthology of Very Short Poems, she celebrates the magic of brevity. To share her enthusiasm with others, she recently conducted an online workshop about writing short poems like this one:

How to write a poem

Catch the air
around the butterfly

Constance Alexander is a columnist, award-winning poet and playwright, and President of INTEXCommunications in Murray. She can be reached at constancealexander@twc.com. Or visit www.constancealexander.com.

To Stoykova, short poems are 50 words or less. “The title is part of the poem,” she explained, adding that every word must pitch in and do its part.

“It’s like a puzzle,” she said. “You ask, ‘How can I say the same in this number of words?’”

Despite the rules she imposes, she also insists on letting the imagination roam free. “You need to liberate yourself from expectations,” she declared.

Relating the history of her butterfly poem, she revealed that those 11 words had come to her all at once. Instead of accepting them, she was struck by self-doubt and took various approaches to make the poem longer.

Nothing worked.

After many false tries, she went back to the beginning and let the breathtaking image do the heavy lifting.

“What is said is as important as what is not said,” she remarked. “You can’t explain too much but you can lean on the reader for knowledge of well-understood concept.”

“A very short poem,” she said, “uses the reader’s knowledge well.”

Capturing the spirit of April as National Poetry Month, Stoykova took time from her own work and coaching other poets, to write and record a short poem for Murray’s NPR station, WKMS-FM. Poetry Minutes, an annual project of WKMS, broadcasts short poems every weekday in April, mornings at 8:43 and 11:20, and in the afternoon at 3:48.

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