Stargazing, Astra Papachristodoulou
Guillemot Press, 2019 — £6.00
Experimenting with myth and sleeplessness
My initial glance at the opening pages of Stargazing left me bemused.
The first poem, ‘across the room’, starts with a rectangular block of forward slashes ( /////////// ).
The second poem, ‘window distractions’, is also a rectangle of ////////, but its lower third shows a scattering of stars.
The third (‘ontomorphic’) is nothing but stars. How on earth was I to respond to this?
But the more I thought about these strange pieces, the more interested I became. And there are also poems made of words here. Each poem is set in a rectangle in the centre of its page. Some words get lopped off if they fall outside the rectangle’s dimensions.
It started to become clear that the narrator suffers from insomnia, and that the rectangles represent windows. The narrator is looking out at the sky, over the Aegean Sea. Soon there are references to Daedalus, and Icarus — his flight, and his fall.
I would love to ask the poet how she chose when to allow a word to run onto the next line, rather than disappear out of the frame. Often it feels as though a larger poem exists, and we are only given the snapshot that fits inside the ‘window’. At other times, a line is permitted to follow on to the next. Is that bending the rules the poet has set herself? Does it matter?
Papachristodoulou creates a delightful sense of an adolescent Icarus flying, in ‘it’s dawn’:
gliding down, then up towards
the sky zooming back down
Then begins the awful foreshadowing of the inevitable in ‘aerial escape’:
oh Daedalus, bare arms cannot
Finally, the boy’s death is depicted in ‘helios’ revenge’. We see the sun’s
[ ... ] merciless punishment to
those violators of his laws. The
warp blasting inwards, he falls
The final poem (‘burning serenade’) begins
and as he falls
into the sea
I fall asleep
Fall asleep? After I’d become so invested in the story!
I had to remind myself that the poet was only ever recounting a myth. There’s a certain lingering vulnerability in the narrator succumbing, finally, to sleep — the end of insomnia.
I could say much more about this multi-layered, beautifully produced, playful and clever publication. Its strange graphic poems may have challenged me initially, but the pay-off was well worth the effort.