My Personal Universe Deck

What’s good for the goose…

It was about 20 years ago (2000?) when I first learned about Michael McClure’s concept of a Personal Universe Deck and 8 years ago when I took some of my retreat time at the Morris Graves Foundation (the Lake) to create my own deck. But I did not decorate my cards until last week. This was AFTER constructing a whole six-week workshop around guiding the creation of such decks by participants and the concept of one’s personal mythology, which was (I think) part of what McClure was after, though I do not remember ever asking him about the P.U.D. and you might hear the sound of me kicking myself from where you are now.

Still, this is a remarkable tool for composition, divination, for grounding one’s self back in the meat-space of HERE (so easily ignored in our pixeled/Zoom world) and for gentle reminders of who it is we are in the tangible imagery that become the clues of one’s life. One example:

When you begin to understand what some of the possibilities are with such a tool AND THEN GO BACK to read Dolphin Skull, one of McClure’s best poems and, as I have written, the poem that marks the start of his mature work, you can get a sense of how he used it, or at least one way in which he used it. Dig the opening of Dolphin Skull:

I am guessing there are cards in McClure’s deck with Turquoise, Musk, White Linen and Owl written on them.

Here I am reading Dolphin Skull last Oct 20, which would have been Michael’s 87th birthday:

Or as he talks about it, here. Or as he reads a chunk of it here.

My own Personal Universe Deck, ready for deployment in its own Nepalese bag:

I would love to facilitate a workshop around creation of a Personal Universe Deck. Ping me if you can make that happen.


About Splabman

Paul Nelson is founder of SPLAB (Seattle Poetics LAB) in Seattle, the Cascadia Poetry Festival and the August POetry POstcard Fest (PoPo). He has published a collection of essays, Organic Poetry & a serial poem re-enacting the history of Auburn, WA, A Time Before Slaughter (shortlisted for a 2010 Genius Award by The Stranger) and American Sentences, a book of 17 syllable poems drawn from the first fourteen of his 20 years of daily practice. The tenth anniversary edition of that book includes Pig War: & Other Songs of Cascadia. He’s interviewed Allen Ginsberg, Michael McClure, Wanda Coleman, Anne Waldman, Sam Hamill, Robin Blaser, Nate Mackey, Eileen Myles, George Bowering, Diane di Prima, Brenda Hillman, George Stanley, Joanne Kyger & many Cascadia poets (see: has presented his poetry and poetics in London, Brussels, Bothell, Cumberland, BC, Qinghai and Beijing, China, Lake Forest, Illinois, Ukiah, CA, and other places & writes an American Sentence every day.
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