Q&A with Stella Theocharides

A square close-up photograph of Stella Theocharides is set against a banner. The banner is a zoomed in section of Shani Nottingham’s cover art, which features stacked bread tags. Stella has short dark hair and brown eyes. They wear a dark top. ‘LEAVEN, an interview with Stella Theocharides’ is written on the banner to the right of Stella’s image.

STELLA THEOCHARIDES is a writer and editor living on unceded Wurundjeri land. They edit poetry on the Voiceworks editorial committee and have had work recently published in Baby Teeth Journal, The Big Issue, and Meanjin.

Intern Svetlana Sterlin talks to Stella about their work, ‘Doorstep’ and ‘Afternoon without you, now what’, published in #28: LEAVEN.

Your poems strike an excellent balance of humour, levity, and sincerity, thanks partly to the surprising use of vocabulary and imagery. What inspired these poems, and do you generally look to the work of any poets/writers/artists to inform your style?

Thank you! I’m always trying to be honest but still playful in my writing. I wrote more miserable poems when I was younger, as one does, thinking they were more honest or authentic, but I’m glad to be working with a cheerier—or more balanced—approach to writing these days. Both these poems were written last spring, when I was feeling intensely disconnected from my body—but also in a very joyful queer relationship that made (and makes!) me feel seen. So the bodily discontent depicted in both of these is tempered by a whole lot of connection and love. The poems are about living in a non-binary body, and about safety and change. 

Ali Smith has had a large influence on my writing in the last year or so—I love how you can see her playing with sound and language on the page in her novels. And my partner thinks there’s a bit of an Eileen Myles feeling to ‘Afternoon without you, now what’—in structure and tone. 

There’s a sense of momentum and expansion in both ‘Doorstep’ and ‘Afternoon without you, now what’. It almost seems to speak to the theme of LEAVEN. Did you have a particular approach to the theme, or did the leavening manifest organically in this instance?

Funnily enough, last year I was thinking a lot about writing as a parallel to making bread, especially the idea of kneading or over-kneading a piece. Some baked goods you can’t over-knead, otherwise you knock out all the air and they don’t rise in the oven. This is something I’m conscious of when writing—over-working a piece until it feels heavy and lifeless. I’m glad the leavening worked out here! I didn’t have the theme in mind while writing, but I do generally write with cooking lurking in my mind anyway, so it must have seeped through. I work in a kitchen and spend a lot of time writing and thinking about food. I feel like good cooking and good writing both often have a sense of craft, balance and form, and play/innovation, and also an awareness of tradition. They run quite parallel for me! So cooking often ends up as the inspiration for my writing, either through an ingredient or a technique or just the idea of cooking as an act of love and care. I think that sense of momentum present in both poems is linked to a hunger in both of them—a feeling of being propelled forwards more quickly than expected, and feeling lost but hopeful too. They’re springtime poems! All restless and full of anxious forward motion.