Funnel writing

This is a post where it’d probably be best if you tune it out, especially if you consider yourself a writer. It’s bound to be filled with elitist, holier-than-thou assertations which have no basis in reality outside of my own warped brain.

One of the thinks [sic] I’ve been having of late about writing is going back to a lesson that I received somewhere around the age of… somewhere in the area of 1983-84 [whew, dodged that bullet]. I had a humanities teacher (which is really a fancy way of saying he taught us something other than all the part of speech normally assigned to “English” classes, but still fulfilled that requirement). George, I think, was a hippie back in the day — a published poet and insisted on being called by his first name and always grimaced when you slipped and called him by his surname appended with the common honorific of “Mister”. He ended up in later years being my creative writing teacher for two hours a day, something that I still wonder how we got away with (two hours a day of largely free creative writing and getting credit for it? OMFG!).

Anyway, back when I first met him, he described creative writing in a way that has stuck with me to this day and probably drives my process more than any other set of rules or forms writers try to box various writing structures into. You may have noticed that I generally write free-form poetry — not because I’m not familiar with a number of the poetry styles and forms or haven’t tried them, but because I just don’t get much emotional satisfaction out of emulating those styles. Writing as a whole, however was described to me by George at a tender, impressionable age as a funnel in one of two positions.

Poetry, as described by George, was like a funnel in the position we typically think of being the functional orientation of a funnel. At the top of the funnel are the broader concepts and images, and the function of poetry (according to George) is to take all of those broader ideas and to extract the essence of those ideas into an intensely concentrated piece of work called a “poem”. The reader gets to unpack (unzip?) that essence and enjoy it, but the act of writing poetry is the process of concentrating the ideas until all the superfluous is trimmed away.

With poetry’s complement, prose, the funnel orientation is reverse so that the small part is at the top. You have a smallish idea put it into the funnel and you “just add water” to it and see the smaller idea expand into a greater finished product.

And since both of the basic forms of writing were presented to me in such a manner, that’s largely how I think of them.

That’s a long-assed explanation for what I’m trying to get at, which is that my current poetry strategy is to narrow the small end of the funnel even further with each piece I write — I’m attempting to trim away all of the extraneous words that don’t add emotive or visualization value. I’m trimming away prepositions, conjunctions, determiners, etc. while I’m writing and I’ve started trying to variously portmanteau words in either a straightforward way (glittershine) or in the more obtuse manner (brillig), again, in an effort to concentrate the imagery even further. I haven’t gotten around to eliminating repetition. But, like chanting, I feel that repetition has a role in creating certain kinds of imagery, so I am loath to trim that back as well.

Additionally, in my search for minimalism, I do take cues from folks like Matsuo Bashō, Ryōkan Taigu, Ikkyū Sōjun, Yosa Buson and a number of other contemporary poets that embrace these minimalist approaches (although I’ve moved away from using their forms directly).

There you go, a whole lot of innocent, murdered words to find out that I’m a lazy S.O.B. when it comes to writing poetry.

I warned you not to bother reading this…

Originally posted on

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