Imagined Memoir


Stay at Home Festival Programme

Ruth Stacey, 12-1pm. Workshop: Writing Imagined Memoir Poems. Join renowned poet Ruth Stacey as she guides beginners and experienced writers alike in writing the life of a person from history. Please come to the workshop with a historical figure already in mind to write about! Join here

Imagined Memoir writing prompts

Ekphrasis as a warm-up

Find a photograph or painting of your chosen historical figure, and if they don’t have one, that’s OK, find a picture of the costume typical of that time or home/place/landscape of that time period.

Now to warm up and get you into the mindset of your historical person, I want you to write an ekphrasis style poem draft responding to the picture.

Ekphrasis poems are an excellent first step into writing about someone.

I find myself returning to ekphrasis to help locate me in the right time period.

You can be clinical and observant, noting the details of the painting or photograph, and stay firmly in the frame of the image.

Or you can step out a little, expand the frame and imagine what is happening around the moment the painting or photograph happened.

You could voice the painter or photographer.

You could voice a creature in the picture, or personify an object in the scene.

Finally, try voicing the person themselves.

Anne of Cleves - Wikipedia

Using a piece of text within your poem

For this writing prompt find a small piece of text that the person wrote.

You could incorporate it within your poem. I used this technique when I wrote about Elizabeth I using a part of one of her own poems.

Or in a poem about Edward III’s wife Phillipa, I used a piece of text that was written by a princess assessing administrator sent to check out her suitability.

If your person left behind no written items, don’t worry, you can use a fragment of text relevant to that time period. For example, for my poem about Ealdgyth of Mercia, I used the Old English text Wulf and Eadwacer as a starting point. Although no part of that poem remains in mine, the feeling of two people being in different places remains and helped my structure.

For this prompt though I want you to use your text fragment to form a golden shovel poem. Info on how to do that here.

I used this technique to write an imagined memoir poem about Jane Morris, wife of William Morris, in my collection, I, Ursula.

Take your fragment and let it end each line. See how it changes your relationship with the fragment, as you voice your historical person in dialogue with their words or words written about them.

Jane Morris - Wikipedia


  1. Hi Ruth! Thanks for the brilliant workshop – I got so much out of it and managed to write three pages during the session. I wondered if I could please send it to you and get your opinion?


    Chelsea from New Zealand

  2. Thank you for a very interesting worrkshop, Ruth. I will certainly be using the prompts you shared. It was a very well paced hour. Let’s have more!

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