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A note from the poet on Decomposing Robert

To think is to destroy. Thought itself is destroyed in the process of thinking, because to think is to decompose.

– Fernando Pessoa

Decomposing Robert is a disintegrating sequence of poems that explores decay in the body, poetry and in a relationship. The poems inhabit the ‘body’ of Robert Browning’s poetry, and the changing body of a relationship as it falls apart. Focusing on his collection Men and Women (1855) and the letters to and from Elizabeth Barrett, Decomposing Robert moves through the body’s biological stages of decomposition.

After a prologue (published in Adjacent Pineapple, 2018), the sequence begins with ‘Rigor Mortis’ – this first section uses the structured form of a dramatic monologue as a syllabic stiffening to set out where body/poem/Browning/personal experience all slip into creative collapse. After this, the poem follows the stages of human decay: Autolysis, Putrefaction, Bloat, Purge and Trace.

This extract is taken from ‘Bloat’. Into the ‘Bloat’ of Robert’s cadaver and the slipping ideas of that section, I also welcome the more contemporary visitations of Agent Dale Cooper from the return of Twin Peaks (2017), a hologram of Elvis Presley glitching from the remake of Blade Runner (2017 and the trudging mud of Krasznahorkai’s Sátántangó (1985) reimagined by the filmmaker Bela Tar (1994) and translated by George Szirtes (2013), correlating with microbial proliferation during putrefaction and the excess of (ex)change that bloats the body.

I am approaching decay as a creative flux of (de)composition, enabling a metaphor through which to understand changes of form in/as poetics and the changes to how someone is perceived and remembered through love. All sources (Browning’s poetry, TV, Film, personal experience and memory) impart sensations throughout the poem of the repetition and return of time, as displaced by and experienced in time. This was a disorientation that I felt characterized much of how I was feeling while writing the book, nearing the end of a long-term relationship and trying to imagine a future through or beyond versions of a shared past.




David Spittle is a poet, researcher and filmmaker. A sequence of poems, B O X, was published with HVTN (2018) and his first full collection, All Particles and Waves, is forthcoming with Black Herald Press. Website: Twitter @DavidSpittle7

Banner image from Void Voices by James Knight.