A Reader's Guide to Time - Rebecca Cullen


A debut collection from Rebecca Cullen, winner of the Live Canon Collection competition 2021

Guest judge, Kirsten Irving said: 

I really enjoyed the blocking of this collection into varieties of time, from psychological windows to era-sized fossils, in forms we recognise and in new varieties that Cullen names along the way.

Women’s time, for example, feels like a sharply-observed response to the devaluing of time taken for tasks coded as feminine, such as child-rearing and the running repairs on emotional connections. Sections vary wildly in size and style, tone and format, as if Woolf’s Orlando, mentioned late on in the book, who shifts between times, genders and forms, is the invisible curator.

Shapeshifting, costume and freakery dog many of Cullen’s characters, from the giant lad crossing the causeway with his mother to the opening folklore of the rock at lizard point, to Lark, nervously heading to her dinner party, garotte tucked inside her bag. We see the painful transition to adulthood and disturbing changes in the body, alongside the regression of an adult through illness to a childlike state. These modern folktales do not come with warnings or morals and I love the openness of their presentation - yes, there are horrors and threats and uncertainties, and we cannot change those any more than we can stop time.

There’s a hint of Queneau’s Exercises in Style in the headers in this collection, but stylistically, Cullen’s work is more acerbic and intricate. She has an ear for texture in sounds, with subtle half-rhymes, abrupt shifts in rhythm, register and line length, and a strong sense of the uncanny. These are poems that perch in the shadows, observing everyday darknesses to the ticking of the clock.

Rebecca Cullen has a PhD in Creative and Critical writing; some of these poems were written while poet in residence at Newstead Abbey, the ancestral seat of George Gordon, Lord Byron. She is a lecturer in English at Nottingham Trent University, leads the NTU-wide Writing Reading and Pleasure Programme and presents the Notts TV Book Club. Her students are a daily reminder of the extraordinary power of creativity. Her family is a daily reminder of the extraordinary power of love.