Writing Prompts


1. Oral History Writing Prompt

Oral history evidence can make beautiful poetry, creating vivid, intimate snapshots of the past. If it isn’t recorded, much of this rich material will be lost, so here is a way to record this personal testimony and keep these voices alive.

A dictaphone would be very useful to record your interview, if your interviewee is happy for you to do so. Make sure your interviewee is comfortable and relaxed. Sometimes the presence of a recording device can make people ‘clam’ up, so try not to bring attention to the equipment during the interview and chat casually until they are comfortable. During the interview ask about their life experiences and let them talk. Some people are happy to talk freely, others may need prompts or questions to get them going. Let them drift naturally in their conversation – you can organise their words later – for now just get them talking. 

Let them tell you in their own words about past events, only steer them if you need to. If you want them to elaborate on a point – and obviously you want rich snippets to bring your poem to life – probe without auto suggesting.

 It is important you don’t influence the interview, so remain passive.

When you get home transcribe the recording and look at individual events that could work as poems. This focus is important so the poems don’t become sprawling and general – we want to capture rich moments in time, not a complete history. 

You can experiment with form, line endings and so on.

Always cite your source to give the poem authenticity. If the interviewee doesn’t want to be named, you can always use initials. It would be nice to include the date you conducted the interview and a brief footnote if necessary.

Happy writing!