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Name: Rebecca Cullen 

PhD: Creative Writing

Thesis Title: 


Becky Cullen

PhD in Creative Writing

 'Mastering Time: Time and Temporality in Contemporary Poetry'


Thesis Description:

My doctoral thesis

will be concerned with the notion that whilst a poem can fix a moment in time, the internal mechanisms of a poem can accelerate or arrest the reader’s progress within it.

As Glyn Maxwell states in On Poetry, ‘You master form, you master time.’ A poem has a special relationship with time, being able to present a fixed moment, surrounded by white space, so that the reader is focused, or fixed, upon it. Perhaps the successful reader and the successful poem are more appropriately described as ‘affixed’: some part of the poem is retained, perhaps absorbed, by the reader. In other words, the form of a poem sets it, even temporarily suspends it, in a particular moment in time.

Within the metalanguage of poetry, rhythm, metre and pace can be described as linear temporal units. Of course, each line has its own internal euphony, but this is not to say that the act of reading a poem is purely linear. I will therefore consider the notion of polyphony within a poem, a concept helpfully defined by Lacan in ‘The Agency of the Letter in the Unconscious,’ ‘One only has to listen to poetry for polyphony to be heard, for it to become clear that all discourse is arranged along the several staves of a score.’[1] My discussion will therefore encompass the notion of poetic voice, as any attempt within a poem to create polyphony needs to balance the poem’s poly-voices and the poet’s voice. I expect to source critical thinking by Bakhtin in this discussion, testing the hypothesis in my own creative practice, that polyphony within the poem is created by its prosody. I will consider how the prosodic elements of enjambment, long and short vowels, alliteration, metre, assonance, rhyme, repetition and so on contrive, directly and indirectly, in the service of polyphony. I will refer to contemporary Anglophone poetry, focussing initially on the poems of Michael Ondaatje and Sujata Bhatt.

[1] Lacan, J., ‘The Agency of the Letter in the Unconscious’  in Leitch, V. B. (ed.),The Norton Anthology of Theory and Criticism: 2nd Edition (New York: W.M. Norton & Company, Inc., 2001), p. 1175.



Supervisors and Institution(s)

explores the ways in which poetry breaks chronological time.  In On Poetry (2011) Glyn Maxwell states 'You master form you master time,' but a poem moves between temporalities of past, present and future, so that time is always in dynamic movement, resisting mastery. The thesis is organised around discussion of the repetition of time, the way that poetry stratifies time, and poetry and the disturbance of time.  

The thesis is practice-led and combines creative practice, contextualisation within contemporary poetry and critical extension. I will carry out a programme of creative research to inform a collection of my own poems, drawing on a series of  visits and residences. At the same time, the poetry of Michael Ondaatje and Sujata Bhatt provides a literary framework to explore the research questions, extended by critical thinking about text and time. For instance, my creative research with Nottingham City Museums and Galleries as AHRC Midlands3Cities Poet-in-Residence at Newstead Abbey provides the opportunity to make connections between repetition of steps, window shapes and panels in the Newstead site, repetition in both Ondaatje and Bhatt’s work, and theories of repetition and return (Peter Brooks, 1984) and iterability (Derrida, 1971).

Supervisory Team: 

  • Dr Sarah Jackson, Nottingham Trent University

  • Dr Rory Waterman, Nottingham Trent University

  • Professor Tim Youngs, Nottingham Trent University


Publications (please include full details with page nos. or web links):


  • Three Poems, PN Review
  • Three Poems, New Walk


Poems published in:

Scholarly / Public Engagement Activities:

Creative Writer at

Scholarly / Public Engagement Activities:

  • AHRC Midlands3Cities Poet-in-Residence at Newstead Abbey, January - June 2016, funded by Student Development Fund (SDF).

  • Represented NTU and M3C students at national AHRC student consultation on next round of funding, November 2015, travel funded by AHRC.

  • Attended Masterclass with Louise Emerson, Director of Cheltenham Festival, University of Nottingham, November 2015.

  • Participated in ‘Inspiration from the Archives” writing workshop at the University of Leicester, October 2015.

  • Supported bid/participated in 'BOOOM! Making Research Memorable' event at BCU, funded by M3C Cohort Development Fund, developing research dissemination and performance skills, July 2015. 

  • Wrote, recorded and produced a podcast through AHRC/Birkbeck College Critical Waves AHRC-funded development programme, broadcast on Resonance 104.4FM, archived at, June 2015, funded by SDF.

  • Presented paper titled 'Poetry, Time and Temporality' at International Great Writing conference, June 2015, funded by SDF.

  • Poet-in-Residence for National Tour of 'Inside Out of Mind', 2015.

  • Emcee for 'Totally Wired' Early Evening Poetry series at Wired Cafe, Nottingham, 2014 to present. 

  • M3C NTU SAF representative, October 2014 to present. Hosting and chairing meetings, writing updates for the cohort, arranging elections for new members, writing Terms of Reference, meeting with Site Directors and taking part in planning and delivering sessions during the M3C residential for Cohort 2. Additionally, co-leader of bid for 'Talking Heads' Midlands3Cities Interviewing and Broadcasting Development Programme, Spring/Summer 2016.

  • Creative Writer at National Videogame Archive Game City 9 'Turn to Text' programme, run in conjunction with Nottingham City Libraries, 2014.

  • Poet-in-Residence at Lakeside Theatre, Nottingham, for the production of 'inside Out of Mind', 2013.

  • Poet

in Residence
  • -in-Residence at Surface Gallery, 2013.

  • Community poem project, 2013.



  • Three Poems, 'What I See in the Mirror', 'Majid Sits in a Tree and Sings' and 'How to Hang Washing' in PN Review

  • Three Poems, 'Waiting for the Last Laugh', 'The Courthouse, Shillelagh' and 'Crossing to Marazion' in New Walk


Poems published in:

Other Research Interests:

  • Voices from history

  • Memory


    , memorisation

    of Poetry,




  • Poetry and Film
Social Media Presence:
  • of poetry

  • The under-representation of women within literature from Nottingham

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