“I saw the future, I did,
and in it,
I was alive.”
I never used to really be into poetry. Despite having a degree partly in English Literature, having to constantly analyse poems made it really hard to love them outside of a classroom. A friend of mine is a poet and, when I shared these concerns, introduced me to a channel called Button Poetry and his favourite performance poet Neil Hilborn whose main focuses are around mental health as he has OCD. When the announcement of a UK tour was made, it seemed wrong to pass up on it so me and a couple of friends – who all love his poetry – decided to make it a small friend reunion.
I try to pretend that my anxiety disorder is not as crippling it is because sometimes it makes me worry about completely unnecessary things but it’s been a just over a year since I passed my driving test and driving places I’ve never been before still fills me with a sense of dread. But I knew I needed to push myself and one of my friends had driven to Birmingham before so was able to help me navigate along with a sat nav. I am so ridiculously proud of myself for forcing myself to do it; even if my muscles were clenched for the whole journey. We met up with my other friend who’d got her train to Birmingham to meet us and we had dinner to catch up and explored the city. Of course, we took a trip to Waterstones and I was quick to pick up a copy of the newly released Wonder Woman: Warbringer by Leigh Bardugo.
We then indulged in more food and made our way over to The Glee Club which was the venue for the performance. The capacity was 420 people and the event was sold out. I’ve been to poetry nights before but never solely to see one poet so I had no idea what to expect.
It’s hard to put into words what it feels like to experience something. Especially when it’s visual. Neil Hilborn’s poetry is so deep, intricate, and complex. To watch him on that stage, pausing as he looked at the floor and taking a deep breath before putting all of his heart and soul into getting those feelings across in his performances felt almost like we’d stumbled into something that was meant to be private. He even broke away halfway through poems to joke about some of the lines he’s written which just added a little extra humour and a more human element to it. But honestly, I forgot that I was in a tiny room in a comedy club in Birmingham. Listening to these poems with the actual poet in front of me felt like being in a different world.
Surprisingly, after his show had finished, there was the opportunity to meet him. I felt bad not having a copy of his book (I read it on Kindle) and no cash to buy any that were available at the merch table so when I finally did get to meet him I started off by pointing this out and how I felt terrible. He shook my hand and I told him about my anxiety and how listening to his poem The Future helps me when I get into a state where doing every day things becomes difficult. The irony of the situation was that I was on the brink of having a panic attack while thanking him for helping me… not have panic attacks. But I mean, one of the greatest modern poets was sitting in front of me, staring at me and listening to what I was saying. After that, he signed a little card for me and we got a photo.
We then said goodbye to the friend who’d gotten the train and got back in my car where I had to do the whole awful journey in reverse; which turned out to be very eventful as the junction I needed to get off the motorway was closed so we ended up with a lengthy detour.
I feel so honoured to have this experience and getting to meet the man behind all the words and videos I’ve consumed over the past few years. I often find it’s too easy to see people through a screen and forget that they are just that: people.
I’m going to end this post with Neil Hilborn’s performance of The Future which I hope will encourage you to look further into his poetry.