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A Room of One’s Own

A couple of years ago I decided to have ‘A Room of One’s Own’ tattooed on my lower right forearm.


It is extremely hard to explain to people what the words mean – I found this out when I tried to tell the tattooist why I was having this particular tattoo.   How to explain that the words represent my intention or my promise to myself to take my writing seriously, to treat it as important, to one day have a room of my own just for writing, that I am having those words driven into my skin because I need a reminder that space for myself is something I should never forget to keep sacred?

For me, a room of one’s own means having the freedom to go and write when I want to – it means accepting that part of me will selfishly go and write when there are other things that need doing, things that probably bring in more money and are possibly a lot more useful.  It is a statement of intent: that this matters to me, that it is my own, that it belongs to me.

Are the words ‘A Room of One’s Own’ so well-known now they have become almost a cliché? I hope not. It can be argued that it will always be saved from becoming a cliché because there is no one definition or truth that can be attached to the words.    Everyone has their own picture of what ‘A Room of One’s Own’ looks like, so the originality of the idea can never be lost or diminished.

‘A Room of One’s Own’ was first published in 1929 and started life as a series of lectures which Virginia Woolf then edited into the essay as we know it today.  I first read ‘A Room of One’s Own’ in 1999.  I would have been 18.  Woolf’s essay hit me like a thunderbolt. After reading it, I could put a name to the feeling I’d had when my Dad said that I couldn’t be a scaffolder like him when I grew up.  I had a name for the uncharacteristically aggressive behaviour I’d displayed at school when a boy had refused to let me play with the toy cars and the Lego (I bit him on the arm and was sent by the teacher who witnessed the whole thing to sit in the Wendy house in disgrace, with the doll family that lived there staring dumbly at me).

Obviously back then, I didn’t think all of this through.  I didn’t know I’d just read a seminal feminist literary work.  I didn’t question why I felt a connection with the essay – maybe if I’d read it in school, as part of a set text, I would have, and this whole article would have been a lot easier to write – instead it sank to my unconsciousness.  I went off to Leeds College of Music to do a degree in Music specialising in trumpet.  I lived in a house with five other musicians.  I had a room of my own and forgot all about Virginia and that I’d ever loved her at all.


Two years ago, I found her again, after my Dad bought me a Kindle.  Maybe I was looking for cheap or free books – for some reason I ended up downloading ‘A Room of One’s Own’.  Again, I had an instant connection with it.  Two things happened to me after reading ‘A Room of One’s Own’ for the second time.  The same afternoon I went into the local tattoo parlour and booked an appointment.  I returned home the next day, brandishing my arm in triumph and telling my husband that I would be judging people henceforth on who knew what the words meant and who didn’t.  He told me I would end up being very disappointed and wished me good luck with it.

The tattoo seems to provoke surprising reactions. I’ve had lovely comments from older women in particular – they normally tell me how much they love the essay.  One participant in a workshop rubbed my arm and asked me three times whether it was permanent.  When I asserted for the third time that yes, it was, she looked at me pityingly and said ‘Never mind.  I’m sure you’ll be able to get it removed’.

The second thing that happened was that I wrote this poem, which references some of the imagery that I loved in Woolf’s essay and asks for her to be given strength which perhaps seems a little foolish, knowing that it is too late to ask for such a thing, knowing what we know about how she died.  The image of her walking into a river with one large stone in her pocket is a haunting one.  In this poem, I want her to find the same strength that her essay gave so many other women.  The poem also details what happened in the tattoo parlour whilst I was having the tattoo.


A Room Of One’s Own

Give her strength as she sits beside the river,
in that city she didn’t name, in October,
the leaves around her burning red and purple,
the bridge staring only at its secret self
under the water, give her strength
when she’s turned away from the library
or walks on the grass and gets chased off,
as the thought she almost had gasps
for breath in front of her, give her strength
to push the life back in it, to follow it
down the city streets, inside the museum,
where more books about women live
than on any other subject in the world.

Give her strength to see an answer,
the man and woman getting into a taxi,
she’ll need as much as Atlas needs,
his shoulders curved under the loneliness
of holding up the world, give her strength
when that strange wind blows and the bricks
glow like fire and the world conspires
to blind her with beauty, to make her calm,
accepting, give her strength to follow
the thought they tell her not to have.

And let her move through me,
my curved fingers pressed against
the tattooists belly as he writes
her words in my skin, I’m ashamed,
I’m biting my lip while he talks of immigrants
and the deserving poor, like old people,
like his ma, and who would I rather
give money to, as if that’s the only choice,
I’m biting my lip while her words
and the flame of their birth set in,
I’m biting my lip, he’s not a cruel
or even a stupid man, give me strength
to count, keep track of such days as these,
how many times I stay calm, say nothing.

(previously published in The Rialto)


I wanted to explore what ‘A Room of One’s Own’ means now and thought that rather than asking poets what they thought, I would ask them to send in a picture of what ‘A Room of One’s Own’ meant to them and to write a short paragraph to accompany their photograph.   Of course, to send a photograph of ‘A Room of One’s Own’ is a contradiction, because by sending the photograph, in a way, it can no longer stay private or belong to one person if it is published.  A few poets felt that their writing space was too private a thing to put online and declined gracefully – and I completely understand that.  This residency with its title of ‘Poetry in Process’ seems to have at its centre a struggle between what is too private to admit and what isn’t.

This process, of adding the rooms as they came in from around the world has been fascinating and illuminating.  Poets have sent in photos of desks and cafes, huts and garden sheds and everything in between.  They have sent in photos from the middle of winter with snow covering everything to the summer when the whole garden is in leaf.

I was originally going to put a picture of what used to be my writing room, which is now set up as the spare room because our house has been up for sale.  However, emboldened by Andrew McMillan’s honest and brilliant picture of his ‘room’, I’ve decided to be honest and instead put a picture here of where I actually do most of my writing, which is on the floor, in front of the living room fire, sitting on a cushion.  A couple of nights ago, I fell asleep on the floor when I was writing and woke up with my head in the dog basket, both dogs stretched out in comfort on the sofa.


What follows is a whole castle’s worth of rooms from poets living in the UK, America, China and Macedonia.  I would like to thank David Tait, Clare Shaw, Fiona Sampson, Holly Hopkins, Jennifer Copley, Robert Wrigley, Maitreyabandhu, Nikola Madzirov, Andrew McMillan, Michael Symmons Roberts, Moniza Alvi, Myra Schneider and Will Barrett for taking part.

David Tait

Recent publications:

Self Portrait with the Happiness – Smith/Doorstop, May 2014
Love’s Loose Ends – Smith/Doorstop, 2010

“I’m currently working in Guangzhou, a city of 15 million people in the south of China. Since moving here I’ve found quietness to be at a bit of a premium, so I write mostly in cafés such as this one. There’s a real fashion for out dated European tat, so I naturally fit right in.” 

David Tait

Clare Shaw

Recent publications:

Head On – Bloodaxe (2012)
Straight Ahead – Bloodaxe (2006)

“More of a corner than a room, and very clearly not a room of my own. The desk alongside mine is my six-year old daughter’s. Luckily, neither of us spend much time there. I write in cafes, on trains, at a run; mainly, she just runs. Best thing about my room is what’s outside it; canal and towpath; gardens and barges. On the notice board: Patti Smith’s copy of “Sheep in Fog” (honest!), a Poetry Society voucher, a Moomins calendar, Niamh’s art work, a parking charge debt recovery notice. Behind me; books, plants, books, plastic stable, guitar, books, books.”

Clare Shaw

Fiona Sampson

Recent publications:

Coleshill (Chatto & Windus, 2013)
Rough Music (Carcanet, 2010)
Common Prayer (Carcanet, 2007)

“As you can see, my writing shed needs a coat of paint. It started out as a second-hand summer house, the kind you get in garden centre Bank Holiday bargain sales.  In fact we bought it from a widow who wanted it gone as part of her bereavement spring-clean.  We brought it home on a trailer and Graham next door helped us to rebuild it. It’s lined with cheap insulating foam and ply, which I painted blue and is by now painted white.  There’s a carpet, electricity, heating, of course I use my laptop – but there’s no wifi. I have a lectern, because I got tired of sitting down to work all day, and a big table, and the shed doubles as an apple store. I first got it because my then-husband was extremely untidy and the house was in uproar, impossible for a Libran like me to work in! Now, after fifteen years, the shed has become a way of working and a way of life.  I love the outdoors feel of it, the light and the sense it gives me that I’m dissolving into the landscape. The shed is literally dissolving, of course.  At some point it’s going to collapse and I’ll have to replace it.  But perhaps if I repaint this summer the paint will hold it together for a couple more years…  Meanwhile, I share it with Esme the cat, and Dusha our dog, who are best friends (sic).”

Fiona Sampson

Holly Hopkins

Recent publications:

Soon Every House Will Have One (Smith/Doorstop, 2014)

“I have a desk in my bedroom that is ‘my’ desk, but that is for shutting the door in the evening and working to silly-o’clock. However, if I’m alone in the day the living room is far better. The big window looks out towards Milbank, making it the only non-claustrophobic space in our flat. Having somewhere to retreat to and write in peace is necessary. I live in London and before my current flat I was in one where I didn’t have a quiet space to work. I used to go to write in hotel lobbies and corridors, the only places nearby that opened late enough while remaining relatively quiet. I became a connoisseur of the otherwise pointless sofas that hotels use to make their vestibules seem lived-in.”

Holly Hopkins

Jennifer Copley

Recent publications:

Sisters (Smokestack, 2014)
Mr Trickfeather (Like This Press, 2012)
Living Daylights (Happenstance, 2011)
Beans in Snow (Smokestack, 2009)

“This is the room my grandmother kept as a den. It was full of pieces of material priced 19/11 or 17/6. She called them ‘stuffs’. There were also rolls of leather, scraps of felt and dolls from the market waiting to be dressed.

I like the room for writing because it’s not big enough for more than one person. Martin made the desk.

Previously, I used an old Good Companion typewriter but now I suffer a computer like everyone else.”

Jennifer Copley

Robert Wrigley

Recent publications:

The Church of Omnivorous Light (Bloodaxe, 2013)

“This picture, through snow falling during a winter past, is of the space I call my “writing shack,” although it is, in fact, relatively plush.  It’s about 50 yards from the house; both house and shack are in the woods, on Moscow Mountain, on the far west slope of the Rockies, in northern Idaho. 

Inside: a writing desk, a computer desk, a file cabinet, a futon, a hearth with woodstove, a rocking chair, a guitar, a 20-volume OED, and somewhere in the neighborhood of 4,500 books, mostly poetry.  The view from the tall front windows: across the Palouse Prairie, over the breaks of the Clearwater and Snake Rivers.  On clear days, I can see the Wallowa Mountains, in NE Oregon, and the very tips of the Seven Devils mountains, in central Idaho.  Other writers who’ve visited have often said something like “I could never write here.  All I’d do is look out the window.”  I prefer to think of it as inviting the outside in.

I built the building in 2002, from hand-mixed concrete footings thirty inches deep in the ground to the roof.  I sawed every board and drove every nail; I wired it, laid carpet, erected bookshelves, assembled the hearth of slate.  The only thing I didn’t do myself was build the railing around the porch; a local metal artist did that for me.  From this angle, you can see that I gave the place a name:  “Stanza.”  Among other things, of course, it’s an Italian word for “room.”

I don’t allow myself to do anything in this room but write and read or think about writing or reading.  No schoolwork (I teach); no bill-paying.  I will allow myself to sing sometimes.  I’ve been writing in this space for nearly 12 years now, so in some ways, my mind and even my body respond to my arrival there with something like single-minded receptivity; Pavlov’s poet.  I can write in other places; I have.  But this is where I have come to feel most connected to the art and to the language.

My wife took the picture.  I’m inside on this particular day, writing.”

Robert Wrigley


Recent publications:

The Crumb Road – (Bloodaxe, 2013)

Vita Brevis – (Templar, 2013)
The Bond (Smith/Doorstop, 2010)

My desk in the London Buddhist Centre where I live and work. I’m at my desk most mornings writing my new Buddhist book ‘The Journey and the Guide’, and of course it’s here, in stolen bits of time – morning, noon and too late at night – that I fiddle and faff with the endless revisions of poetry. The image on the desk is Padmasambhava – an archetypal form of the Buddha.


Nikola Madzirov

Recent publications:

Remnants of Another Age (Bloodaxe, 2013)

“I face more with the windows than with the writing desks in my room. To be an observer of writing, than to write as an observer.”


Andrew McMillan


‘every salt advance’ (Red Squirrel Press 2009)
‘the moon is a supporting player’ (Red Squirrel Press 2011)
‘protest of the physical’ (Red Squirrel Press 2013)

Forthcoming collection from Cape

“I don’t have a room where I write; I don’t write poetry in my office at university, nor do I really have a specific place in my flat I like to write. I type in my flat, at my desk, but typing is for work that’s already been drafted many times. I write on trains; I travel a lot for work, to give readings and run workshops, and so I’m always on a train. I scribble down odd lines or sometimes, if its early enough in the morning, I can start work on a whole new poem.   Poetry happens, or ideas happen, when you put yourself out in the world in an open way, this, for me, means it usually happens when I’m travelling.”


Michael Symmons Roberts

Recent publications:

Drysalter (Cape, 2013)
The Half-Healed (Cape, 2008)
 Corpus (Cape, 2004)                    

“I’d like to say it’s a garden office, but it’s not. It’s a glorified shed. It was built for me by a friend, and he made the desk from two pieces of Victorian elm salvaged from a house owned by the Gaskell family. I like to think that Mrs Gaskell wrote some of ‘North and South’ on it, while visiting her relatives. But she probably didn’t. There’s a framed photograph of an old drysalter’s shop on the wall, and the essential coffee machine on the filing cabinet. I’ve worked here for over three years, and made a rule that I don’t do any emails, accounts or reading about football transfer gossip here. It’s just for writing. Nothing else.”


Moniza Alvi

Recent publications:

At the Time of Partition (Bloodaxe, 2013)
Homesick for the Earth (Bloodaxe, 2011)

“I feel very fortunate in having had, for the past few years, this room of my own’ at the top of our house in Norfolk. It’s just large enough for me to have my Poetry School group sessions in. I do enjoy being able to share the room with others in this way. My favourite poetry books are here, at hand. The wooden table under the skylight is where I write, or try to. The wastepaper bin is large and always full! Our cocker spaniel Tessy often comes and sits on the chair. There’s a small window that you can’t see in the photo – it has a view of the houses opposite and, beyond, a glimpse of the water meadows of the Tiffey Valley.”


Myra Schneider

Recent Publications:

What Women Want (Second Light Network, 2012)
Circling the Core (Enitharmon, 2008)

“My small workroom upstairs is the place where I shut myself away from the world to work on my writing, hack at it and hopefully get into a finished form which I am satisfied with. Ideas, notes for writing, bits of drafting for me can take place absolutely anywhere: in bed in the middle of the night, in a café, on a train, walking in the park but the day in, day out labour of transforming into shape, the producing of typed draft after typed draft is always this room where I feel sealed off from outside interference. It is a place where poems, workshop notes, drafts of articles and heaps of paper lie about apparently at random. On the floor is a boxful of temporarily saved drafts (in case I need to refer to them) a box of jiffy bags and  boxes of envelopes.  It is a place of outer disorder and dust within which there is a fair amount of organization. The much larger poetry room with books, chairs and spare bed is next door but this is the epicentre of my writing. It appears in a sequence of mine which is a metaphorical life journey:


is silver so you try to hoard it

in your small room among books,

folders, boxes topped with dust,

the dangle of computer cables.



If you would like to upload your own ‘A Room of One’s Own’ and tell us a little about it – please head over to the Campus group of the same name.

If you would like to read ‘A Room of One’s Own’ you can read it online for free here.


  • Rachel Davies

    Oh I so enjoyed reading this Kim. Lovely to see where these poets work. I sort of have ‘a room of one’s own’ but life does invade it sometimes. I love the idea of keeping it just for writing though, banish FB, email and internet (except for research).

  • Kim Moore

    Rachel – I love that idea as well and am going to put it in to practice in the new house. No facebook, no twitter, no social media in the writing room!

  • Maggie How

    Oh what a great post! So lovely to read your poem inspired by Virginia, and then to see all those lovely writing spaces – kind of made me feel … I’m in a good space. It always inspires me to see and hear what other writers get up to. I’m off to a writing retreat in France soon, and funnily enough, the tutor gave me the option of ‘A room of one’s own’ on the booking form, which I of course leapt at! Will post a photo of it here when I get there! Oh, and I love your dog!

  • john foggin

    I’m astonished by the unclutteredness of all these spaces.They remind me that I seem unable to function, to think, unless I’m surrounded by visual and aural ‘noise’. My partner Flo says she doesn’t see how I can think with Radio 2 cranking out its creaky stuff. But she paints in a room that would take a week to empty. There’s a cone of silence inside all the seeming distractions. I can’t concentrate in plain quiet places. I just drift off. So I have room full of stuff. And the same goes for the cellar workshop and the garage workshop. Maybe that’s why I like writing fast in a room full of people……like The Poetry Business. Maybe that’s why I write long cluttered poems like badly-curated museums. I wonder if there’s a connection between the spaces you work in and the stuff you write. Great article. No tautologies.

  • Kim Moore

    Hi Maggie! That is great – that there was an option on the form for ‘A Room of One’s Own’ – do you still have form? Think you should post a photo of it 🙂

    Have a great time in France 🙂

  • Kim Moore

    Hi @johnfoggin glad you liked it! Are you going to post a picture of your room up in the group? I think you should! Would be nice to have a room with lots of wonderful objects in…..

  • Sarah Leavesley/James

    Fabulous tattoo. I’ve always wanted one but never been brave enough/know I would want a different one every couple of weeks. Love the range of different writing places. Not sure if its inherent nosiness, or whether I can blame finding these so fascinating on on being a journalist. (Do you remember Carolyn Z from MMU’s On Campus, she did something like this for her Text project. I was just a laptop on the move then. Have my own room now – tiny but nice to have it, even if most inspiration is still scribbled in the middle of nowhere on the back of whatever’s to hand.) I am enjoying the twitter wisdoms too btw, really make me chuckle, particularly the workshop & already sent to the Queen one.

  • john foggin

    Kim, if I could figure out how to post a photo and a a poem inside your blog, I’d do it. I’ll get there eventually I guess, but the help videos won’t open up into a full screen for me. Sad, really.

  • Kerry darbishire

    Kim, I love your tattoo, is that your writing arm? I understand the need after reading ‘A room….’ Fascinating looking into other’s writing spaces, all full of favourite objects, triggers and books. My room gets so cluttered with many drafts and notebooks and sadly an ironing board which i have almost declared redundant! I have a window out to the garden where some lines write themselves in front of me, I love my clutter.

  • Kim Moore

    John you need to go into group “a room of ones own” and post photo there @willbarrett

  • Clare Hepworth-Wain

    Hi Kim, I have enjoyed reading your ‘log book’ and your latest article ‘a room of ones own’ – really insightful and thought provoking. The relationship we have with the space we live in and the space we allow for ourselves in order to write… the whole time / space dynamic and how we manage to carve out little bits of both and how they differ for each of us. Hmm…fascinating.

  • Kim Moore

    Hi Kerry – yes it is my writing arm! It had to be 🙂 It is fascinating isn’t it? Would love to see a picture of your room with drafts scattered everywhere if you fancy putting one up 🙂
    And thanks for the lovely comments Sarah – that is really nice of you to say. I do have other tattoos and my first one I got at the bottom of my back so it could be easily covered up if I hated it.
    Been thinking more about the tattoo as well and what it means to me. I think ‘A Room of One’s Own’ also refers to the body as well – the body as a room. I found getting a tattoo very empowering – it was a way of making my body mine – it sounds silly but growing up, it didn’t feel like mine because there are so many things that we do to our bodies, particularly as young women that make them not ours – all the hair we are told we should remove and wearing make up etc etc. Anyway, the tattoo was/is a way of taking control/ownership of my body. In a world where I care desperately most of the time what people think, when it comes to my tattoo, I don’t mind – I don’t take it personally if people don’t like it but I am delighted when they do! Have gone off on a tangent and before I do it any more am going for a run! Thank you to everybody for your comments and feedback – you have no idea how much it means to me 🙂

  • Kim Moore

    I have posted two replies to Sarah and Maggie that seem to have disappeared but I was basically saying thank you for your feedback 🙂

  • Kerry darbishire

    I’ve posted a pic of my room but no idea if it’s in the right place! 🙂

  • Ramona Herdman

    Hi Kim. Thanks for the fantastic article. Reading it in my own room is a brilliant start to my weekly writing day. It’s been my ambition to have a writing room for a long time, and I feel extremely grateful whenever I come in here that I am lucky enough to be able to live somewhere with that space. I read the Woolf essay as a teenager too, and I think that is the best time to first come across it. Totally agree about tattoos as claiming your own body, too – I got mine at 21 and it was definitely about that, though I can’t claim it is as literary as yours! Love the poem, too, especially the subtle way it comes round to the money idea from the essay and there not being enough to go round.

  • Sarah Leavesley/James

    Kim, just to say very much with your thoughts of the body as a room. Actually, just been thinking of the same thing , in slightly different terms, in a poem about my skin and bones being my only real home. 🙂

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Image Credits:

Image: Dining Room on the Garden, Pierre Bonnard

Image credit: Wikipaintings