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Building positivity

  • Date22 April 2020

Alumna, artist and poet Astra Papachristodoulou has created an imaginative poetry Jenga project which transforms the classic family game with positive messages and drawings. During this time of lockdown, she invites people to try it at home and explains how the project came about.

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“Last summer, I was invited by curator Steven J Fowler to put together a short poetry performance as part of the European Poetry Festival. A few days before the event, I went on a charity shop crawl in search for a prop for my performance – I didn’t quite know what I was looking for until I saw a Jenga,” she explains. “I thought that decorating the wooden blocks with lines of poetry may add a quirky collaging touch to the tumbling tower. Since then, I have been commissioned to create poetry Jengas by the Hungarian Cultural Centre and The Poetry Café in London, and have delivered workshops to schools using this method – the kids love it! Recently, I launched a tiny poetry Jenga at the Free Verse Poetry Book Fair with publishers 8OX Press in a first limited edition of 10. I am looking to create a second edition of the tiny poetry Jenga in the future.

"Self-isolation has taught me a few things: to make the most out of my resources at home, and do my best to stay active and positive (it’s easy to get overwhelmed by this whole situation otherwise!). My poetry Jenga is an inventive yet easy way for people in quarantine, young and old, to get together and transform an existing game that may be gathering dust in one’s attic. Each wooden piece is a blank canvas and can be decorated with positive messages or drawings - it’s important to externalise our fears and hopes at this time, and this poetry Jenga may help some people to share thoughts with their loved ones creatively whilst having fun! Board games are a classic stay-at-home form of entertainment that bring people together, and their merging with poetry adds a different dimension to a familiar object.”

Astra graduated from Royal Holloway in 2017 after studying MA Poetic Practice. “The teaching at Poetic Practice was remarkable,” she says. “Thanks to Professor Robert Hampson, I was introduced to practitioners from the experimental poetry network in London that eventually offered me my first slots in readings and festivals. It was this initiative that allowed me to build confidence in my writing, and encouraged me to write systematically and start publishing work.”

Since graduating, Astra has published several books including Stargazing (Guillemot Press) and Temporary Spaces (Pamenar Press), she has performed around Europe as part of international festivals and is currently studying for her PhD. She has also recently created her own visual poetry platform Poem Atlas, which curates visual poetry exhibitions and performance events in London and makes this type of work available to wider audiences. 

What does she enjoy most about her work? “Having creative freedom – experimental poetry has no limits and I love it.”

Find out more about Astra and her work at astranaut.co.uk.

Are you helping out in the community during this time? Have you set up a grassroots group or project to support others? We'd love to hear your story. Get in touch at alumni@royalholloway.ac.uk.

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