Astra Papachristodoulou is a PhD student at the University of Surrey with focus in the experimental tradition across poetry, visual art and performance. She has given individual, collaborative, and interactive readings at a range of events in Slovenia, Vienna, Greece and the UK, including the European Poetry Festival and IGNOR Festival. Astra's work has been exhibited at the National Poetry Library and the Poetry Café, and she is the author of several pamphlets including Stargazing (Guillemot Press, 2019).
1 - How did your first book or chapbook change your life? How does your most recent work compare to your previous? How does it feel different?
My little chapbook Almost a Nightmare was my first proper publication - it was produced by Sampson Low in 2017. The poetry still reflects some of the work that I produce now. Some of the poetry that I wrote before this book was pure evil so I’m glad that I started publishing in print when my poetic voice was more defined. Almost a Nightmare is a small thing but it made me want more - the satisfaction of seeing my work in tangible form was a cloud-9 kind of feeling. Since then, every book has been special for me in its own way. Publishing is a bit like a good addiction, I say.
2 - How did you come to poetry first, as opposed to, say, fiction or non-fiction?
It all came naturally, really. Perhaps, the fact that English is not my mother tongue and that poetry can be abstract and fragmented, provided a safe space for me to explore things, if that makes sense.
3 - How long does it take to start any particular writing project? Does your writing initially come quickly, or is it a slow process? Do first drafts appear looking close to their final shape, or does your work come out of copious notes?
New projects tend to develop pretty quickly - almost immediately after an idea has popped to my mind. I always get the initial rush that comes with an idea, and try to materialise it before my interest goes away. There have been projects that haven’t made it to the end – but not many. I don’t tend to dwell too much in drafts, as I trust my initial instincts and want my works to have a spontaneous essence - not sure how well I communicate this to the reader, but that’s how I work at least.
4 - Where does a poem usually begin for you? Are you an author of short pieces that end up combining into a larger project, or are you working on a "book" from the very beginning?
I think it depends on your definition of a poem. My definition is pretty broad, so a poem for me exists here, there & everywhere. I like narratives and my page/object poems unfold into sequences one way or another.
5 - Are public readings part of or counter to your creative process? Are you the sort of writer who enjoys doing readings?
Some of my poems exist in different forms simultaneously – often in performance, page and object/visual form. I don’t like to just read poems, so performances have really helped me develop and think outside the box.
I used to be very nervous of reading in public, but grew to really enjoy it. Performance is an important aspect of my work nowadays.
6 - Do you have any theoretical concerns behind your writing? What kinds of questions are you trying to answer with your work? What do you even think the current questions are?
Questions of technology vs poetry, human vs human, human vs nature, technology vs nature, human vs space & more.
7 – What do you see the current role of the writer being in larger culture? Does s/he even have one? What do you think the role of the writer should be?
It’s hard to think of poets in response to larger culture due to the fact that poetry communities are so close-knit, in London at least. It’s unusual to stumble upon people who read poetry (particularly experimental) who aren’t poets themselves, publishers, academics etc. Poetry can be therapeutic, thought provoking and/or entertaining to a non-poet, so perhaps the role of the poet is to introduce poetry to new audiences in order to expand and maintain the poetry ecosystem.
8 - Do you find the process of working with an outside editor difficult or essential (or both)?
I think that it depends on the project, although an editor can sharpen up a work and be this second pair of eyes that a book needs. I’ve been lucky so far with my editors – amongst them Luke Thompson and Paul Hawkins who were a joy to work with!
9 - What is the best piece of advice you've heard (not necessarily given to you directly)?
No money, no honey.
10 - How easy has it been for you to move between genres (poetry to visual art to performance)? What do you see as the appeal?
I’m quite happy for my work to exist in different forms or somewhere in between mediums. As well as a poet, I consider myself an artist, so I enjoy playing around and trying new things. It’s been easy for me to exist in between things – it’s the magic of experimental poetry. It has no boundaries.
11 - What kind of writing routine do you tend to keep, or do you even have one? How does a typical day (for you) begin?
At the moment, I am studying for a PhD on a full-time basis while working at The Poetry Society and WhyNow magazine, so time is pretty limited for writing outside my PhD project. I write & brainstorm on my hour-long commute to London, before bed, during lunch break, in the shower, weekends – any chance I get. But sometimes, you just need to lay back and watch Forensic Files (at least that’s what I do to relax).
12 - When your writing gets stalled, where do you turn or return for (for lack of a better word) inspiration?
The fear of every writer. When this happens, I tend to flick through poetry books that I like and note down phrases with a good resonance for my taste. I re-arrange these phrases and replace some of the words – to get my own rhythm going (in ideal scenarios). For object poems, I visit charity shops to find unusual and affordable objects that I could turn into poems. The toy section is usually the goldmine corner.
13 - What fragrance reminds you of home?
The smell of leather - 100%. My dad owed a fur shop for most of his life. He was a single parent and I would spend hours of my day at his shop amongst fur & leather jackets. I would try to describe the scent, but all that comes to mind is dad.
14 - David W. McFadden once said that books come from books, but are there any other forms that influence your work, whether nature, music, science or visual art?
Literally everything can influence my work – from visual art to crime documentaries and the universe.
15 - What other writers or writings are important for your work, or simply your life outside of your work?
There’s loads: Mina Loy, Harry Gilonis, Stephen Emmerson, Robert Hampson, Steven J Fowler, Gavin Selerie & Sophie Calle and more.
16 - What would you like to do that you haven't yet done?
I would like to own a little exhibition venue. Maybe one day, eh?
17 - If you could pick any other occupation to attempt, what would it be? Or, alternately, what do you think you would have ended up doing had you not been a writer?
I would either like to be a judge or a forensic investigator.
18 - What made you write, as opposed to doing something else?
I honestly don’t know – somehow poetry as a medium works well with my nature. It has no limits and I love it.
19 - What was the last great book you read? What was the last great film?
Best book was Katie Paterson’s A Place That Exists Only in Moonlight – its cover is printed with cosmic dust, which says it all. Last great film was Peter Greenaway's The Pillow Book, which I watched at Steven J Fowler’s book launch at the Cinema Museum in London two weeks ago.
20 - What are you currently working on?
I’m currently working on a pamphlet that will be out by Hesterglock Press in December 2019. I’m also curating a couple of exhibitions – the closest one is themed around The Yellow Book and is taking place at the Westminster Reference Library from the 1st to the 27th November. Lots of exciting things ahead.