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  • Milena Williamson

Dear Reader...

I’m not the only one I know to start or revive a blog during this strange time. It feels good to have a new creative outlet, to challenge myself to write in new ways (hello prose my old friend!) and to connect with people in America and in the island of Ireland. After all, connecting with anyone outside the house these days is a big accomplishment!


I called my blog An Ocean Away because the image speaks to distance and in-between-ness. I wanted this to be a space for me to reflect on and work through my strange and wonderful experiences as an American living in Northern Ireland. I like how ‘an ocean away’ doesn’t label which place is the point of departure and which is the arrival (can you tell I used to spend a lot of time in airports?). It’s an image that is open-ended; am I traveling from A to B or B to A? Calling my blog An Ocean Away avoids creating a hierarchy between Swarthmore, my childhood home, and Belfast, my current – and adulthood? – home.


Recently, I was messaging a friend about blogging, and I said to her—My blog is still just a wee thing. I feel some pressure to chose a ‘niche’. As in, I feel like I need to be the Poetry Blogger Doing Writing Things or else Amateur Gardener Making a Mess of Things or something else even more niche, like Vegan Goat Yogi Zero Waster Urban Explorer (if you’re a Vegan Goat Yogi Zero Waster Urban Explorer, that’s great! I’m just…not.) But I want my blog to be me, with many subjects and rambles and squiggles, so that’s what it is now.


Looking back, I realize that my friend never actually asked me to define my blog. She simply asked me how it was going! So it’s very possible that the pressure I feel to chose a label or a niche exists more in my head than in real life. But I figure, it’s best to be direct and say hi, hello, welcome, this blog will be me, with many subjects and rambles and squiggles.


The view from my desk/blogging station

My name is Milena Williamson and I’m a poet and PhD student. I’m a Harry Potter nerd at heart. I like running, gardening, and drawing. I prefer the Oxford comma in prose but not in poetry. A brief list of things I’ve done during lockdown include: making noodles from scratch, dying and cutting my housemate’s hair (and yes she did mine!), and reading many, many books.


And what can you, as readers, expect from this blog? I’m interested in writing reviews of books, music, film, and TV and mixing critical thoughts with personal experiences. What a text means to me and how it helps me think about the world. There will probably be a lot of poetry in this blog, sprinkled throughout like fairy dust, because I spend a lot of time thinking about poems. I’m also considering about doing a mini-series of PhD thoughts—Ph Doubts, Ph Dreams, Ph Disgruntled, etc. We will see!


Mostly, I’m figuring out this blog as I go, which I think is the kindest approach for myself, especially at a time like this. I’m giving myself the freedom to be more than one thing, to think through things before I know the answers.


I hope this ‘plan’ for my blog doesn’t come across as indecisive, but rather, as open and inviting. I’m thinking about what Tracy K. Smith said about poetry in an interview with Caitlin Newby of The Tangerine.


When I think back to myself as a younger writer, there was really this wish to find out what I had to say, you know, like: ‘I feel lost in the world, reading poetry helps me feel more anchored, writing poetry helps me feel more valid, in a way.’ And then I think as you move along that’s no longer an anxiety. What I’ve found as I’ve gotten a little bit deeper into my own career, is that I’m really curious about what I can manage to hear as a writer, and to me that is about listening beyond myself and gathering something that can be useful privately, but that also might be worthwhile for others to acknowledge as well.


So there it is. I’m in the process of becoming anchored and I’m navigating the anxiety that comes with it. Maybe I’ll anchor to a place – possibly Belfast, although that is a question mark because I require visa to be here – or maybe I’ll anchor to writing itself, as the thing that helps me move along into a career. And most importantly, I hope I can learn to listen beyond myself.


Sending love an ocean away!

Milena Williamson is a poet and PhD candidate at The Seamus Heaney Centre at Queen's University Belfast.

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