“Our Numbered Days” – Neil Hilborn

Learning to Read #3

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This was a Christmas present ūüôā I load up my Wish List with enough books to keep me going for five or six months of the year, and then it’s back to the library again until my birthday in November. My reading habits really outstretch my budget! I was very curious about this book though – I’ve seen his performances on the Button Poetry YouTube channel, and I’ve listened to him working through and with his tics and I was genuinely curious as to whether the passion and urgency of his voice would¬†still come¬†out¬†of a printed, static page.

Indeed, in OCD the poem is reproduced complete with the tics – “But when I saw her, the only thing / I could think about was the hairpin curve / of her lips or the eyelash on her cheek / the eyelash on her cheek / the eyelash on her cheek” This takes you right¬†back to the performance, and to the question of whether this collection can stand alone, whether it needs to stand alone or not. OCD is a powerful piece of performance spoken word, the emotion is raw and exposed, the piece is very much particular to the artist. Does this detract from the value of the work once it is written down?

I don’t think it does. Much of this collection examines the perspective and the personality of the author, and his style¬†has a lot of¬†spoken word¬†irregular sentence structures. He¬†breaks lines around punctuation, pauses for reflection and emphasis mid sentence in ways that reflect his performance style, but¬†this isn’t a distraction, rather it helps to¬†give you an insight into the way that¬†he wants the words to work.¬†Take You Can Look – “This is what it’s like to set / fire to the clothes you are wearing. This is what it’s like¬†/ to turn a suicide note into a paper aeroplance. This / is what it’s like to turn a life full of exclamation marks¬†/ into a blank page…”¬†The ideas and the images hit you from different angles as the form and structure of the typical list poem is subverted and reworked.

“Hope is a thing I drag out of storage / when I am done thinking; hope answers / my phone; hope breaks my furniture” Another list, another expression of an experience of being human, and of finding ways to make it work. But there is variety in here – the closing piece Liminality is the story you write in your head when you are driving and you think – what if I just twitched the wheel hard left¬†just now and. It. All. Just. Ended. A fantasy played out in head space, of how it could end in a perfect, story book way. “I will lie here and sing to you about all the things / I stopped myself from saying when we were alive” A kind of Heaven.

I’m inept in my criticism of poetry – I don’t have the formal training or a proper understanding of the technical side to our craft. I can only tell you about my response to a collection. I enjoyed this work. I couldn’t separate the written from the spoken, but the voice that came through from the page made me think, it made me engage and I enjoyed the connection that it gave me to a different world and a different life. And this is one of the really precious things that poetry can give us.

Here are a couple of links relating to Neil’s work, for those who haven’t found him before.

A performance of OCD – https://youtu.be/vnKZ4pdSU-s

His Button Poetry biog http://buttonpoetry.com/neilhilbor/

An old review piece about OCD – http://www.independent.co.uk/i/page-3-profile-neil-hilborn-poet-8762289.html

A couple of WordPress blog reviews here and here

 

 

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