A very rare sweltering bank holiday Monday in Manchester didn't deter folks from queueing all the way onto Oxford Road outside trendy mid-sized gig venue, Gorilla, this week. Only the second time (since I was a young enthusiastic teen with nowhere better to be) that I've queued that far for a gig, and I'm very proud to say both times have been for poets (Arguably that's because I wasn't sure how the support acts would work, but proud nonetheless).
This time I had queued to see Texan performance poet Neil Hilborn on his first international tour following the publication of this debut poetry collection Our Numbered Days. Having followed Hilborn for some time through American modern publishing/poetry distribution house Button Poetry, who are developing an almost cult status over here, especially with younger generations - a resounding win for Poetry to have them on our side, if you ask me.
Support came from our own Northern gem Jackie Hagan fresh from her show 'Cosmic Scallies' storming Edinburgh Fringe earlier this month, who was hilarious and lovely as ever, opting very much more to warm the crowd up for Hilborn with her infectious laugh and darker humour rather than read more structured poems.
Hilborn took to the stage confidently, there was no evidence of hesitation as he slammed words on the stage covering tough topics around his mental illness, suicide, relationships gone awry and even admitting to being a bit of a 'bro' and liking sport. Difficult topics to handle you would think, but Hilborn's vulnerability made him, and his platform, accessible; and he delivers it all with a 'you'll get through this' hopeful positivity message.
The set swung violently between laugh-out-loud funny and rock bottom despair and there were people audibly sobbing when we came to make our way out. It sounds dramatic, but mental health *and* poetry need these kind of platforms and individuals to make progress towards acceptance against ignorance.
In the set we had several from Our Numbered Days, including 'OCD', 'Joey', 'Here and Away', 'Unsolicited Advice to Minnesota Children' as well as newer ones including 'Rejected Tinder Bio's' and 'Cats are Dickheads'.
Hilborn's poem 'Joey' is one of my favourites, in it he talks about the parallels between his friend Joe and himself as they each grew up and learnt they suffered from mental illness. The difference between them is that Hilborn's family could afford to get him treatment and Joe's could not. It felt like our predominantly young audience felt the gravity of our political climate with that one, and we seemed to collectively sigh over the disintegration of our beloved NHS.
I like 'Joey' because Hilborn acknowledges his own privilege, this is a guy who isn't ashamed to be proud of how far he's come, and he should be. He performed his internet sensation 'OCD' confidently mid-way through the set where most would save it until last. I can assure you 'OCD' is equally neck hair-raisingly brilliant in person. As is a new poem he closed the show with, The Future.
'The Future', Hilborn informed us, will be the title of his next book, already due to come out for spring 2018, all going well. He performs the title poem like it's already the one that will take his career to the next level, and it really is brilliant.
Hilborn assured us he would be doing another international tour and would visit us back in Manchester for the next book, so hopefully you'll be able to see him next year if you missed him this time around.