Professor Hannah Sullivan

Most of my work is about literary language. I’m interested in how writers write and revise, particularly the process of innovation, in ways of classifying and interpreting style, and in the relationship between local and major form. I also write poems.

My first book The Work of Revision (Harvard, 2013) explored the complicated genesis of some of the major works of English-language modernism, including fiction by Henry James, Ernest Hemingway, James Joyce and Virginia Woolf, and poetry by T. S. Eliot and W. H. Auden. I argued that the new technology of the typewriter encouraged writers to make bold, length-altering acts of excision and addition, and that these account for some of the difficulty of modernist style. The book was awarded the Rose Mary Crawshay Prize by the British Academy and the University English Book Prize in 2014.

Since 2014 I have been working on free verse and metre. Some early parts of this project have been published as articles. Free verse is often described in ideological terms, as a twentieth-century attempt to guarantee democratic freedom of speech. But it is also a response to linguistic and prosodic changes that happened more slowly, across the nineteenth century, and which made traditional accentual-syllabic verse forms increasingly hard for poets to use. The book explores these changes and identifies some new prosodic patterns developed in twentieth-century English (not always or only in poems).

My first poetry collection Three Poems was published in 2018 by Faber and Faber and by Farrar, Straus and Giroux in 2020. It was shortlisted for the Costa Poetry Award, the Ted Hughes Award and the Seamus Heaney Poetry Prize, and it won the 2018 T. S. Eliot Prize for Poetry and the John Pollard International Prize for a first collection. The French translation by Patrick Hersant is published by La Table Ronde. Wikipedia entry for Three Poems.

Some reviews of Three PoemsThe New York Times, The New York Review of Books, Guardian, LRB, The Scotsman, L.A. Review of Books, TLS, The Yale Review, The New Statesman, 4 Columns, Concentric: Literary and Cultural Studies, Spectrum Culture, Colorado Review, Women’s Review of Books, Poetry Ireland.

My second collection Was It for This was published in 2023 by Faber and Faber and Farrar, Straus and Giroux. 

Some reviews of Was It for ThisThe Guardian, The Times, Poetry FoundationTLS

I would be interested in supervising a wide range of projects in stylistics, but also single-author dissertations on T. S. Eliot, work on the Classical tradition in English (my first degree was in Classics), and attempts (from whatever perspective) to study the writing process. 

I am also always glad to chat informally with aspiring poets!


Modern literature in English; poetry and poetics; textual editing and genetic criticism; the Classical tradition in English; T. S. Eliot.

I received my first degree in Classics from Trinity College, Cambridge, in 2000 and then spent a year as a Kennedy Scholar in the Comparative Literature Department at Harvard. After studying for a M.Res. in Cultural Studies at the London Consortium, I went back to Harvard in 2003 to begin a Ph.D. in English and American Literature. From 2008-2011, I was as an Assistant Professor of English at Stanford University in California, where I taught undergraduate courses on T. S. Eliot, the 1910s, British Modernism, and Book History, and graduate seminars on 20c Authorship, Textual Criticism, and Literary Periodization. I've been at Oxford since 2012.

You can hear me reading some work on the excellent Poetry Archive website. A documentary I made with Julian May for Radio 4 about poetry editing is available here.