Cascadia Poetics LAB logo


Personal Universe Deck

Personal Universe Deck

(Michael McClure)

Your personal universe exemplified in 100 words.


  1. These words are to exemplify your past, present and (ideally) your future.
  2. The words must sound good together, even beautiful, to you.
  3. Your good side AND bad side must be reflected.
  4. You can make up a word or two if you have feelings that current words can’t express.
  5. Use concrete words.
  6. Words should be root words, no words ending in “ing,” “ly” or “ies.” No plural words. Reduce words to their most concrete, original, basic grammatical structure.
  7. Use specific words, not categories. Beef instead of meat. Lily instead of flower.
  8. Divide 80 of the 100 words evenly among SIGHT, SOUND, TASTE, TOUCH AND SMELL, sixteen each. (To achieve derangement of the senses, of which Rimbaud spoke.)
  9. Use free association to determine the words.
  10. Use ten words of movement. Again, no “ing” words.
  11. Select the words in isolation, preferably alone, with no distractions, in candlelight. Approximate a meditative state. Even the cat must not bother you.
  12. One or two words will be parts of the body. It does not have to be your body. It can be the body of a mother, or lover.
  13. Include some words for personal heroes or SHEroes, places in the universe, invented words, times of night or day, symbolic signs like astrological signs, totemic animals, birds and plants and only one abstraction. What is the most significant abstraction in your life? You should not brood on it; you should possibly take the first answer that comes into your head. Patriotism, prayer and thriftiness are three examples.
  14. If the deck is done correctly, you will get a little high from it.
  15. Get at least 50 three-by-five index cards.
  16. Write each word in big letters on one side of each card. Each side of each of the fifty cards should end up with a word.
  17. Use the cards to play games, make conversations, tell jokes, make poems.

Taken from Michael McClure’s 1976 lecture at Naropa, from the book Talking Poetics from Naropa Institute, Volume 1, Shambhala, Boulder, 1978. Editors Anne Waldman and Marilyn Webb.

Here’s a Personal Universe Grid to get you going.
Here’s a Personal Mythology of Organic Poetry Questionnaire to help you consider your own personal mythology.

Paul E Nelson



McClure Personal Universe Deck 1

McClure Personal Universe Deck 2

McClure Personal Universe Deck 3

McClure Personal Universe Deck 4

McClure Personal Universe Deck 5

McClure Personal Universe Deck 6

McClure PUD 7

Audio of McClure’s Naropa Lecture, June 16, 1976.

Do it digitally!