Daily Archives: April 3, 2021

NaPoWriMo 2021 Day 3

Day Three Click here to read the full post.
on APRIL 3, 2021

Our featured participant for the day is clayandbranches, where the “road not taken” prompt for Day 2 gave rise to a poem with a moon, a moose, and other arresting images.

Today’s featured reading is a live event that will take place tomorrow, April 4, at 3 p.m. eastern daylight time, involving the poets Sandra Beasley and Teri Ellen Cross Davis reading from their new books, Made to Explode and A More Perfect Union.
And now for our prompt. Today, I’d like to challenge you to make a “Personal Universal Deck,” and then to write a poem using it. The idea of the “Personal Universal Deck” originated with the poet and playwright Michael McClure, who gave the project of creating such decks to his students in a 1976 lecture at Naropa University. Basically, you will need 50 index cards or small pieces of paper, and on them, you will write 100 words (one on the front and one on the back of each card/paper) using the rules found here.
… Making the deck should be fun and revealing, as you generate words that sound “good” to you…
Once you have your deck put together, shuffle it a few times. Now select a card or two, and use them as the basis for a new poem.

Happy writing!


I started today reading the featured poem. There were lots of spectacular lines but these lingered for me;

Childhood stayed behind like a barn
chock-full of things I wanted

to forget. 

and much later in the poem towards the final stanza

How do you love
someone hooked through her mouth by regret?

Striking images and good use of repeated motif.

I booked on for the LIVE reading, at last night’s Close Reading on a Virtual Stage event it was lovely to see someone I met on Zelda Chappel’s poetry course. Tomorrow’s event is 8-9 pm BST, so this means sacrificing another event I had thought I might attend, but was too late for the link call out and am trying to spend some of this Easter weekend offline and with Mr G!

I was up in the middle of the night and so slipped into NaPo to peek at the prompt. This deck of cards idea peaked my interest. The great thing is you can keep the set and repeat the prompt over and over. Having already doubled up poems on Day 1 and 2 though, after I have made my deck I only plan to do it once today/this month. Good future proofed resources though.

Just need to find some pretty enough paper to create my deck… or so I thought. I discovered in reading through the prompt and links again that there is audio of the original lecture which I left on in the background (amusing and reminded me of my university days), which was after chalkboards were used, but that was a lovely nostalgic sound too.

Visiting Poets Academy: Michael McClure

I found it hard initially to gather words but once you get into the swing of it and over the rules and finding 16 examples they flow out – 100 may not be enough. Some people create 200-300 words and then cut back.

And why no pretty paper? Thanks to Ben Parzybok, who created a digital programme/version of these cards. So I filled in the screens. This takes time, it is why it is a weekend prompt.

13 mins and 4 cards were complete. You have to check the rules – this is why listening to the lecture at the same time was useful. I found a rogue ly (adverb) that was not allowed. It is hard because you can’t think of the words as verbs/nouns and are supposed to be from past, present and future and represent your good and bad sides. In fact try not to think of the words at all – just let them come.

The last 2 boxes – 16 touch words and 10 words of movement took another 7 minutes. A word of warning if you list heroes in the last section only use 1 word still.

Once I hit organise deck – there was still more work to do, rearranging words to sound good or beautifully in random combination. Some thought on sonics. This took a long time with 100 words /50 pairs and an indecisive nature! But I had Michael in the background talking about word combinations and changing them, so although it breaks the exercise (rules were there to be broken, in poetry at least), then you could substitute in and get rid of unwanted words.

Ben’s digital deck once you have ordered the cards will cast 3 or 1 card and you can divine a transition card too. I played with the app which was fun and took pictures of the screen cards to write around later. You can print the deck (6 pages) too, so I may go and find some pretty paper/card after all.

Having spent over an hour on the lecture and prompt prep. It definitely reminds me of the Oulipo movement (which I only discovered last year) and it twists my head to a place of back-to-back lectures. An enjoyable challenge nonetheless.

Ben says; I think of my deck as a being that talks to me in signs and symbols, in a language that is crafted of analogy. It tries its best to communicate with me with its meagre knowledge of 100 words, and its deep understanding of my own psychology. Most of the time it succeeds.

Michael says; You’re reaching through dimensions.

This s t r e t c h is real, be prepared!

Photo by Pixabay on Pexels.com

It was interesting to hear Michael McClure talk about this word alchemy experiment and how this part can take an hour when working with artists and teachers but working with poets it has taken half that time. I found the lecture really interesting and worth the 1hr 22 mins.

Rule 5: 80 of these words will be divided evenly among sight, sound, taste, touch, smell (16 each), 85% of of our sensory experience is visual–that’s why the words are divided as above.

… Best way when working on these words: be alone, quiet, in the semi-dark; can be done intuitively, programmatically; or, in a combination.

Eventually, I stopped playing and got ready to write. Still listening to the lecture, Michael said they are transformational possibilities/ alchemic experiment/ word sculpture. This is how Michael sees the outcome. With that in mind I revisited my deck and created cards from a random cast (blind selection) of 3 cards.

This is the outcome.