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Poetry lover becomes shoestring publisher

It's a Thursday afternoon, and Katerina Stoykova-Klemer's dream is alive in her living room, which is humming with activity.

Pages of poetry stream off an electronic printer. Her son, budding artist Simeon Kondev, and budding poet Shawn Wright grab the pages, trim them to size on a paper cutter, and stack them in order. Poet-songwriter Colin Watkins and Tony Sexton, president of the Kentucky State Poetry Society, check pages to make sure they're ready for the covers to go on and the glue to be applied.

When they're all done — presto — there's a new copy of Wrecking Ball and Other Urban Haiku by Barry George, ready for some poetry lover to enjoy at the bargain-basement price of $5.

It's all brought to you by Accents Publishing, Lexington's newest printer of poetry and prose. It's also Stoykova-Klemer's longtime dream come true.

"Our vision is to bring low-cost books to people who love literature but often can't afford it," she says. "So we do it quick, easy and cheap. Every one of our books is $5, and that is how we want to keep it."

Think about that vision statement a moment, and you realize that Accents is not your typical publishing company, and that Stoykova-Klemer is not your typical publisher.

A native of Bulgaria, she was a Lexmark software engineer — a career not generally associated with poetry. (Admittedly, famed American poet Wallace Stevens was an insurance-company executive.) Stoykova-Klemer, 38, left her computer job about two years ago to focus on writing poetry and on her mission of getting more poetry into more people's hands by publishing it at dirt-cheap rates.

She does it by using personal computers and electronic printers instead of an expensive printing press. Her husband, Dan Klemer, designed some of the equipment. And she relies on a cadre of volunteers to help with the grunt work.

Volunteers include her son, Kondev, who does cover art for the books, and Wright, Watkins and Sexton, who pitch in to help because they love poetry and hope to see Accents publish their works someday. They also happen to believe in what Stoykova-Klemer is doing.

"This venture of Katerina's is very important because it gives new poets an opportunity to be published and to be read," said Sexton, the poetry society president. "Until now, we really didn't have a venue to get published. I'm really excited about it."

To be sure, there are other publishers of poetry in the area, such as The University Press of Kentucky and Larkspur Press. Both, however, tend to publish known poets. Other avenues are open to new poets, but they might have to pay part or all of the expense of getting their works published, or contribute some in-kind support.

"Katerina publishes you at no cost to you the poet," Sexton explained. "Very few people buy poetry books because they're expensive, and people don't want to take a chance if they don't know the poet.

"But Katerina's books are $5, which even a student can afford. That's a gamble you can take because if you don't like the book you're only out $5."

Stoykova-Klemer was a published poet in her native Bulgaria before moving to the United States at age 24. Then, she essentially stopped writing poetry for 11 years because she was learning English and starting a computer science career. But her love of poetry never died.

"I think now that I was desperate for it but didn't realize it," she said. "I tried to drown my unhappiness by working, and the more unhappy I felt, the more I worked."

Three years ago, Stoykova-Klemer started writing again. By then, she was living in Lexington and looking for other poetry lovers.

She had fliers printed and put them up around town, inviting anyone interested in forming a poetry group to meet at Common Grounds, a Lexington coffee shop.

"Before the first meeting, I had nightmares that no one would come," she said.

Eight people showed up the first night. Within a few months, the group was so big it had to split in two, one section for poetry, one for prose.

Thus was born Poezia (Bulgarian for poetry), which still meets weekly at Common Grounds. Poetry is on Thursdays, prose on Tuesdays; the sessions start at 6:30 p.m. Meetings are free. You can bring your own work to read, seek writing advice or just listen.

About the time Poezia got started, Stoykova- Klemer completed a master's degree in writing at Spaulding University. She also launched a radio show about literature, art and culture; it airs at 2 p.m. each Friday on WRFL-88.1 FM.

Out of all that came the idea for a grass-roots publishing venture, which Stoykova-Klemer named Accents. The company published its first two books, by area poets Jude Lally and Jim Lally, in January.

Accents produces what are called "chapbooks" in the publishing trade. Chapbooks typically have soft covers and relatively few pages, and they are held together with staples. Accents' books are glued together and have heavier covers.

Stoykova-Klemer emphasized that Accents is not a vanity press. It will not print your work for a fee. Instead, Stoykova-Klemer seeks new poets who she thinks have potential. When she finds them, she publishes them.

"She's a doer and a shaker," said Colin Watkins, who hopes Accents will publish his poems soon. For now, he's a volunteer.

"We're willing to help out because we're a tight group," he said. "When somebody does get published, it's a celebration for all of us."

You can find Accents books at The Morris Book Shop, 408 Southland Drive; on Amazon.com; or at www.accents-publishing.com.

Stoykova-Klemer sees good things ahead.

"I think we'll make up in volume for the low cost of our books," she said. "Poetry lets you know about yourself and about the world. It cuts through to the things you don't know, and it's always true in some way.

"We need that. We need the truth."

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