A Blog by International Students at Leiden University

Leiden: World centre for terrible teenage poetry

Leiden, ye I came to know,
I write in stormy weather,
Leiden, ye I came to know,
I want to know you better

– anon. (trans. from Dutch original)

In my short life’s travels, my friends, I’ve developed a keen eye for the eclectic claims to fame of some of the more unheralded parts of the world. Zagreb, capital of Croatia, you may already know, is the world centre for broken hearts, Elista in Western Russia is the Chess capital of the world, and Hamilton, California is where you go globally for waterfalls. I’m sure that where you’re reading from also has something dubiously famous about it, something unique and exciting that may, one day, if well enough marketed, attract tourists from around the world in search of a story. “I’ve been to the world capital of stapler production” they will say, “I’ve been to the third Lassie’s gravestone”. Everywhere has got something, and if not, then start making it up! It’s a dog-eat-dog tourism world out there, and as soon as the guy in the next village starts producing purple cows, main street in Boringville is going to get hit harder than my posts on The Leidener.

Now Leiden, you may already know, is a city among many in the world with more than one bizarre claim to fame. You may know about Leiden being the birthplace of Rembrandt van Rijn, a painter, or about its marvellous siege of 1573/4, which helped The Netherlands. I really don’t know who made either of those stories up, but they are generally regarded as true, and I’m happy to subscribe to them, as they do bring a lot of people here to learn history. Furthermore, you may know about Leiden’s University, the existence of which I can well and truly attest to, but there are some things you couldn’t possibly know without help from your blogging specialists, and, it turns out, some research in old people’s attics.

I spoke to her, a lone tulip in hand,
She was a girl of the green, very green, flat green pastures just outside Leiden,
How was I to know,
How was I to bear,
That one day I would be a tulip,
in her hand,

– K. de Waal, 1923 (from Dutch)

Yes guys, Leiden has the amazing distinction, as mentioned in the title, of being the world home of terrible teenage poetry. But how does one city claim such a title? Is it a qualitative or quantitative measure? Is there a world capital of great teenage poetry? Caught in the grip of  living on a veritable goldmine of comic material,  I was strangely unsatisfied with the amount of detail provided about Leiden’s claim to fame, so naturally I asked a local (AD) the hard questions:

Me: Is it true about Leiden being the home of terrible teenage poetry?
AD: Well, we don’t like to… we… err… it’s…
Me: Don’t avoid the question AD.
AD: Look, I want to say we’ve been trying to forget about that whole thing, but… well… to be honest… I guess it’s still kind of true… umm…
Me: Look me in the face when you speak goshdarnit!
AD: OK OK it is! It’s true, it’s all true! We can’t hide from it! It’s everywhere, go look for yourself!

What’s everywhere? I know you well enough reader, to know you’re desperate for answers, so here we go:

Leiden’s community of middle-aged to elderly people, although increasingly marginalised by international students in the central districts, have vast, largely hidden quantities of paper entirely devoted to apocryphal teenage poetry. When I asked Joke de Boer, 58, of Oestgeest about this she said it was a matter of pride to hold on to them. “We moved from the centre about 10 years ago. It was in the attic at the time, but we brought it all down and brought it over in boxes.” At the time of writing, I had unearthed three generations of teenage poetry from both sides of Mme de Boer’s family, all as pitiful as she suggested. She was surprised but also delighted that students were finally taking an interest in the cultural heritage of the city. “I also dabbled in it; it’s just what we did; In this era where kids are all about mobile phones and the internet, I’m really proud to live in a community that holds on to the tradition.”

Leiden, oh Leiden,
Einstein lived here for a while,
as did I as well

– Bas Ono, undated (from Dutch)

And that’s it, my friends, you now know one more thing about Leiden. Please feel free to post in reply and keep the tradition alive, I for one, in my time here, will be doing my very, most appalling best.

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This entry was posted on October 22, 2012 by in Living in Holland and tagged , , , , , , , , , .

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