Poet learns more than his craft while studying abroad

Poet learns more than his craft while studying abroad

Leaving behind the grey pavement courtyard and stepping onto the patches of grass mixed with mud from a recent rain is almost like one is stepping into a new world, leaving the city behind. Moving past tall trees and shrubbery towards a small dock leading to a body of water that reflects the peaceful environment is where a picnic bench sits. Upon the brown wooden bench tinged with yellow spots leans a cellphone with a dark red case propped against a plastic water bottle, contrasting the case with its blue tint.

This bench is where you’ll find Leon Thompson, a 20-year-old international student from Dublin, Ireland currently studying poetry in Utrecht. He has been creating poetry since March 2020 to express himself and his emotions.

Thompson’s poetry is heavily reliant on his personal background and experience when covering topics such as love, family and sexual identity. “Obviously I’ve talked about being gay…I try to come from a different place with that…I think that it’s important as well to include it, even though there can be the conversation of just like, well it doesn’t have to be your only identity or the only thing that you show, which it’s not, but I think it’s very important for my work”.

When expressing his sexual identity through poetry, Thompson tends to focus on the concept of love. His ideas rely on both his own feelings and emotions as well as borrowing the understanding he has of others’ perceptions of love. “It’s like putting myself in somebody else’s shoes so that I can look on my own”. When covering love, he talks about unconditional love and unrequited love as well as other forms of the feeling or emotion.

According to Thompson another major influence on his creativity when writing poems is his cultural background. Originally from Dublin, he finds himself using Irish slang and references indecipherable to non-Irish audiences.

“I sometimes feel like I’m writing for an Irish audience and it’s not something that I would fault myself on” Thompson says. “There’s things that are referenced in the poems where it’s like you kind of have to be Irish to get it but you don’t at the same time, because the words are there…it’s like you know, the way you can read something and interpret it however you want, like you can still do that but if you’re Irish, you’re just going to get what it really means”.

Thompson says he also finds inspiration in the protests and political pitfalls of the country, providing political commentary on various subjects within his poetry in what he describes as a “blatant but not obvious” manner. “There’s no grey area of how I feel politically,” says Thompson in relation to the opinions he expresses in his artwork. He says he believes that politics are a part of any individuals identity, especially in a Democracy like Ireland where political systems and leadership shift with the power of votes.

Although much of Thompson’s work is influenced by his Irish upbringing, he also strives to pull inspiration from other cultures, countries and people. Thompson says that he decided to participate in an exchange program to the Netherlands because he believed the arts and culture scene throughout the country would provide him with new or different perspectives for creative inspiration.

Thompson says the most influential aspect of his time in Utrecht has been the isolation, providing him with the opportunity to sit with his thoughts and write, ultimately improving his craft.

“Ever since coming here, I’ve seen a big change in my writing, because I am using more references. I had more time to read as well, actually from being over here just because you’re by yourself really” he says. “I feel like I’ve gotten a better understanding of like, how other people interpret things and so when I’m writing, I’m not trying to stick to just having one focus or one mind”.

Thompson feels as though he has been influenced by the international student culture in Utrecht because most international students are separated from friends and family, creating an isolation from one’s support system and social circle.

Since March of 2023, a month after arriving in Utrecht, Thompson began venturing out to a nearby bench, seeking privacy to write poems and record videos for his TikTok account that he created in the same month dedicated to poetry.

According to Thompson, the inspiration behind the account was to reach audiences interested in his poetry as well as peers who could offer advice or different perspectives on his work. “I started coming here [to the bench] maybe like a month into it [living in the Netherlands] it occupied my time and I enjoyed it” he says. Since starting his account, he has reached around 100 followers and his videos are viewed by thousands of people.

Over the last three months since the posting of his first video Thompson has found he most appreciates the feedback from viewers. “People are really nice, they just say why they enjoy it you know and people have given me advice like, I remember one guy was like saying what he thought a poem was about and it changed by outlook on what the poem was as well”. The connections he has formed with like-minded individuals on social media has provided Thompson with new perspectives on his work allowing him to change and grow as an artist.

Thompson is currently a full-time student primarily focused on writing for himself and exploring new ideas as he builds up a portfolio rather than publishing or selling his work, but he has published in the past.

Thompson was published for the first time by Glas na Gil [Green Carnations] an Irish LGBTQIA+ publication which produced a collection of 26 poems. “It came in a big post-box and it was really heavy and it was addressed to me and I was like I didn’t order anything like this” says Thompson.

“We were waiting almost a year because of COVID so I kind of thought it wasn’t going to happen…but then I got the book so to see my face and like my name it was great…I was able to sign all of them and give them to people”.

Overall Thompson submitted 6 poems, two of which “To Him” and “To Her” were written in March 2020, the first month he began creating poetry. “It just felt like what I was doing was right,” said Thompson about his choice to submit his poems to be published, stating that although being published is a massive accomplishment, to him it was more important that it was work he did alone. “I just did it myself…I felt confident and believed in myself and it paid off”.

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