09 October 2020

My UEA Story: Hippolyta Paulusma

Name:  Hippolyta (Polly) Paulusma 

School:  School of Literature, Drama and Creative Writing 

Research area:  PhD in English 

Bio:  My research looks at the musicality, specifically the ‘songfulness’, of prose literature, and how the practice and receipt of song influences the way writers write and readers read. I found an archive of old notes in Bristol, including a recording, which proved that Angela Carter was a folk singer in the 1960s, just as she was emerging into the world as a young novelist. I show that her experience of folk singing directly affected her writing, and imbued her writing with a musicality which readers and songwriters have responded to in an onward trajectory. My observations have pedagogical implications, especially as an auditory turn is underway in wider culture, positing the idea that literature, taught as an audial event, might become more widely accessible, especially to underprivileged communities.  

In future I want to do more research and publish further on the idea of ‘canorography’, or ‘songful’ writing, explore other musical writers and how they have affected the world, explore the role and improve our understanding of ‘song’ in literary studies, and to teach about song, songwriting, and the intricate relationships between song and prose. I hope to do all this alongside continuing my creative praxis as a working singer songwriter.   

What is life as a postgraduate student at UEA like? Describe a typical day  

I live in Cambridge so I’ve been raising my family here and working at home. Most days I’m in my shed, and (lockdown notwithstanding) I have spent many hours in the University Library in Cambridge, and the British Library and Vaughan Williams Memorial Library in London. I have come to campus I would say about once a month on average during my time. I have always felt the energy of being on campus.  

Why did you choose UEA?  

The interdisciplinary nature of my work meant I had to be careful about choosing a supervisor. After lots of research, I felt Dr Stephen Benson was uniquely equipped to help as a Carter expert and expert on music and literature. I then came and met him, and we got along really well. So it was him. and then the CHASE funding came in, allowing me to pursue my studies. Another reason was the pro-creative atmosphere of the institution. Although my PhD has been 100% critical, I’ve accessed two Music Awards and made two albums during the course of my PhD in part thanks to them. I also ran a songwriting club for a little while which was fun! I feel UEA promotes creative pursuits in a way other universities do not. So as a creative I felt very at home at UEA right from the start. 

Any tips for choosing a project / supervisor?  

Identify the right person, the person you think is going to understand best your subject because of their publishing record, and then meet them, make sure you get along (this is really important). Dr Benson I feel has been a brilliant supervisor: constructively critical at times, supportive, challenging, enlightening, never negative without cause, just always positively nurturing but not afraid to call it. Like a really good coach. I’ve loved every minute of doing the PhD and I think that’s been largely down to him. 

How is postgraduate study different to undergraduate study?   

You’re on your own a lot, and the buck stops with you. You are studying something that it’s likely no one has studied before. You become this expert of a tiny tiny universe that is all your own, so in a way the only person who can really help you, in the end, is you. An MA is a good half-way transition between BA and PhD because it’s a bit of taught and research. 

What’s the social side like? How do you find the Postgraduate community?  

I’ve been an older student, I’m 44 and I have two kids who were kids when I started, teenagers now, and I don’t live in Norwich. So the social side has been less of a thing, but it wasn’t what I was looking for. I had lots of ways I could see I could access more of that if that’s what I wanted, but also I was ok to keep a step back. I’ve found supportive peers and we stay in touch via social media.  

What has most surprised you about your postgraduate study at UEA?   

How much I have enjoyed it. People warned me off doing a PhD; it hasn’t all been easy but it’s felt like running a marathon, or having a baby: even in moments of difficulty you feel like it’s positive pain, that you’ll get there, that you’re making a difference. 

Any highlights of your experience?  

Being funded to go to Austria to give a paper at a conference. That was wonderful!  

What kind of activities you have got involved with at UEA (e.g. networks, conferences, events, outreach) that have helped your research?   

I have attended a number of conferences, such as the Angela Carter and Japan Symposium, and have taken part in weekend residential courses to help with thesis writing, and teacher training. I also did a few courses at the beginning on methodologies. I have been supported by UEA to give papers at a dozen other conferences. 

What is writing your thesis or preparing for a viva like (if you’ve got there yet!)  

Writing the thesis has been a good experience thanks to supervisor support. Viva — yet to do! 

What would you say to someone thinking of coming to UEA?  

If you’re committed to your subject, and you’ve identified your supervisor, then UEA will support you. The people— caring, dedicated staff doing over and above for their students each and every day (just had evidence of my supervisor being a superhero again, as I typed this!) — make the institution.  

…anything else you’d like to share!  

I am so grateful for the support and encouragement I have received. Now it’s time to hand in the thesis! 


School of Literature, Drama &
Creative Writing

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