Johanna Hedva, Doom and Time by Becky Cullen

A collaboration between the Critical Poetics Research Group and Nottingham Contemporary, featuring international guest speakers, the Five Bodies series of critical-creative workshops provides a new platform for debate, collaboration and innovation, exploring the relationship between creative and critical theory and practice.

In this blog, CPRG member and NTU Lecturer in English Dr Becky Cullen reflects on how a workshop led by poet Johanna Hedva has influenced her thinking on ‘doom’ and ‘time’.


The Prague Astronomical Clock (Mikuláš of Kadaň and Jan Šindel, 1410)


Six foot two with a brushed felt hat, a long mac which had seen better days and a suitcase in his left hand. He smiled like a man with a pocketful of sweets, slick and taking up space outside my front door.

‘Today, Madam,’ (this emanating from the place between his lips), ‘I’m selling Doom. Real gen-u-ine state-of-the-art slow doom, yes, you heard it right first time, I’m offering you, for an unlimited time and space, quantum doom, temporal doom, fast or slow with seven strings along its middle in a rage-filled room doom. Two slit doom. Only visible in torchlight particle doom. Doom which is the intra-actions of matter in the thick now doom. Yes indeedy, entire worlds inside a single point of time-being. Doom which is in what they call a quickening, and doom which shelters its chronology, shrinking from contingency, standing on its own two feet.’

He paused and winked. ‘Doom. It could be yours. That’s about the size of it.’

I’ve been thinking about time, well, for a long time. I suggested in my thesis that poetry and time work together in various ways, intersecting with ideas of historical time, duration,  speed and slowness. Drawing on the writing of Hélène Cixous and mindful of the meandering hedgehog in Derrida’s ‘Che Cos’è la Poesia?’ I brought together the critical thesis and collection of poems with a creative essay exploring Cixous’s question ‘What is it O’clock?’, writing about the time of a poem, and its temporal texture.[1] The full title of Cixous’s essay is ‘What is it o’clock? or The door (we never enter)’, so it is interesting that as I opened the door on new ways of thinking about time in Johanna Hedva’s Critical Poetics workshop on Doom, I found myself face to face with a door-to-door salesman.[2] Doom was what my door-to-door salesman was peddling, with a drawl from the American South, just days after the departure of Trump.

In terms of a critical poetics of time, there are complexities around a language outside of metaphor to fully express the corresponding potentialities of time and a poem; metaphor is what we use to express time – think flows and ‘deserts of eternity’, another pulse of connection. In her Bloodaxe Poetry lecture ‘Quantum Poetics’, Gwyneth Lewis suggests that, in quantum terms, a poem is both a particle and a wave.[3] Johanna Hedva’s suggestions for reading and preparation included physicist Karen Barad, whose lecture ‘Whose Future, Whose Time?’ was like opening a door to a friend I’d been expecting, allowing additional connections between time and text. Barad’s description of the simultaneity of past, present and future resonates with the rich textual temporality of a poem, a way to express what time it is in a poem, as well as what kind of time it is, as Cixous demands. ‘When you make erasures’, says Barad, ‘you leave a trace in the world’, speaking to the knowledge poets have of the nature of white space, that there is something in the potential process, as she writes in Meeting the Universe Halfway, of ‘re(con)figuring’.[4] Poetry might be in the process of figuring itself out as well as being, in Robert Frost’s description, ‘The Figure a Poem Makes’.[5] There is joy in this way of describing poetry’s dynamic energy, a geopolitical claim of space and time for texts as ‘entire worlds inside a point of time-being’, as Barad suggests. This workshop allowed me to consider these ‘matterings’ in space and time. Many thanks to the Critical Poetics Research Group and Nottingham Contemporary for curating this valuable, stimulating and challenging workshop series, and to Johanna Hedva for her critical and creative inspiration.

[1] Jacques Derrida, ‘Che Cos’è La Poesia?’ in Poetry in Theory: An Anthology 1900-2000, ed. Jon Cook (London: Blackwell, 2008), pp. 533-37.

[2] Hélène Cixous, ‘What is it o’Clock? or the Door (We Never Enter)’ in Stigmata (Oxford: Routledge, 2005), pp. 73-109.

[3] Gwyneth Lewis, Quantum Poetics (Tarset: Bloodaxe, 2015)

[4] Karen Barad, Meeting the Universe Halfway (Duke University Press: Durham, 2007), p. 180.

[5] Robert Frost, ‘The Figure a Poem Makes’ in The Collected Prose of Robert Frost, ed. Mark Richardson (Cambridge, MA., London: Harvard University Press, 2007), pp. 131-33.

Dr Becky Cullen is a Lecturer in English at Nottingham Trent University, where she also leads the WRAP (Writing Reading and Pleasure) extra-curricular programme. She was awarded her AHRC-Midlands3Cities thesis, ‘Mastering Time: Time and Temporality in Contemporary Poetry’ in 2019 and was a postdoctoral Midlands3Cities Cultural Economy Engagement Fellow in the same year. Her pamphlet Majid Sits in a Tree and Sings was a winner of the Poetry Business International Book and Pamphlet competition. Her work also features in Carcanet’s New Poetries VII.