“Void”‘s Introduction to the Notes to his collection of poems, Ex Nihilo

It is rather a departure from what is considered appropriate to supply notes to one’s own poems, but it is not without precedent. T. S. Eliot supplied notes to “The Wasteland”, though their usefulness is doubtful. Coleridge added sidenotes to “The Rime of the Ancient Mariner”, which are indeed helpful. Indeed, many a novelist, historian, biographer, has added footnotes to help the reader understand things which are present in the text, but may need additional explanation. Even editors of poems add notes — but the poet is generally denied the right to make sure those notes are correct.

This is in a sense elitist. The critics, keeping to themselves the right to interpret, do not want the poet to contradict them — and sometimes even insist that their interpretation of the poet’s intent should take precedence over the poet’s actual intent.

Despite this, it is essential with poetry that some of the original intent should be understood. One of the great strengths of the poetic form is the variety of interpretations that can be made — but for all that, though there be a thousand correct interpretations, there will also be a few incorrect ones. These notes are intended partly to forestall some of the grosser misinterpretations, and partly to give a hint to understanding the original intentions of the work. Once understood, it is hoped that the poems will continue to operate internally, but this might not happen until they are first understood correctly. It should be noted that these notes are by no means complete — they are merely to explain a few of the more obscure ideas. A great deal is left to the reader.

Having taken this course, it may be well to state a theory of poetry. Some poets will claim that poetry is all about images — that it is the metaphors and similes, the illustrations of imagination that make poetry poetry. This is true. A far fewer number, in today’s culture, will claim that the music of poetry, the rhyme and rhythm, alliteration and all manners of manipulation of sound, make poetry poetry. This is true. Others, a very small minority indeed in our current culture, will claim that it is the inspiration, the moral quality, the teaching, the prophecy (in the widest sense, of explaining the unknown) that makes poetry poetry. This is also true. Very rarely, the mnemonic value of poetry is recalled — a great number of modern poets have entirely forgotten that poetry is a vestige of an oral tradition, for seeing poetry as a plaything as opposed to the very core of life, they do not feel the necessity of making their words easy to remember — having books, a most useful invention, at hand, they forget the necessity of keeping the most important concepts constantly in one’s head. Hopefully this book of poems will live in the minds of those who read it, rather than rot in data banks, to be perused occasionally by readers who seek a curiosity.

Hence, once again, the reason for giving these notes. It is hoped that a reader who understands the poems better will remember the basic tenets better.

But back to the subject of what poetry is. Is it vision? or sound? Is it moral? or mnemonic? What the modern world seems to have forgotten is that poetry is not one of these things, but all of them. Poetry is all of these things and much more. Its confusion with religion is not accidental nor incidental. It is not a replacement but a complement to religion. It is, or should be, at the very core of life. It is a good chunk of the operating system of the human brain, and, if it is missing, the system will suffer.

Yet for all this high purpose, it should not be allowed to become too proud. It can also be fun and even nonsensical on occasions. Poetry is a little bit of everything, and to confine it to one part is to destroy it. It is the confinement to one part or another, the denying of one or more of the four essential missions outlined above (and perhaps others) that is the great problem with poetry since the Great War. Whether the moral (“Art for Art’s Sake”), the Sound (many a prose poem), the Imagery, or the Mnemonic quality (any thing long, and most modern verse) is forgotten, the poetry suffers. Every thing ever written, very much including the poems in this book, are deficient in all these regards, but at least some effort has been made, and more importantly, these essentials have not been scorned — when they have come as a gift to the mind (a common occurrence in poetry), they have not been set aside as archaic or backward.