Jade, one of our booksellers, was stuck in a reading rut. Luckily, poet Neil Hilborn pulled her out of it. Check out her review of his book, The Future, below.
We’ve all been there, right? Stuck in a reading rut, the precarious jenga tower of books on your bedside table just screaming at you that it can NOT take another, single, half-started novel, the creaking bookshelves echoing the refrain, the screen of your tablet or TV or phone asking you for the trillionth time if you are still watching The Office.
Sometimes what we need is a palate cleanser. An easy read, an easy win, something to trick your brain into feeling accomplished. I typically return to poetry during these times. Not necessarily because it is “easy,” and not always because it is “fun.” More than anything it is because poetry, above everything else, has the power to grab my attention in one line or less. There are no major plot points to remember or lineages to trace, no prequel you need to be privy to. It’s just the words on the page, the emotions bleeding through, reaching out to touch you.
I was towed out of my most recent reading ditch quite by accident. I was scrolling absentmindedly through Facebook (and really, is there any other way to scroll through Facebook?) when I happened upon a video of a poet performing a piece of theirs. I was blown away. I wrote his name down on a scrap of paper — Neil Hilborn, from Houston, Texas. The next day, I came into BookPeople, looked him up, and sure enough, we had both his books — The Future and Our Numbered Days — in stock. Running on the adrenaline high of actually being excited about a book again for the first time in a long time, I bought both of them. And I devoured them both in a matter of days.
Hilborn writes in a way that is simultaneously hilarious and heartbreaking. Speaking from first hand experience, many of his poems address the reality of living with mental illness, be it anxiety, depression, or OCD. In a poem titled “Me, but Happy,” in his newest book The Future, Hilborn writes, “I would like to thank you for wanting me / to be me, but happy. I don’t know why / we’re both here, but since we are, let’s / make out until we’re dead. Before I met you, / I wanted to be dead all the time. I still do, because / of the, you know, mental illness, but now / that you’re here I don’t want to want to / die anymore.”
His sincerity, his pain, but also his strength arrest your attention from the first page. When he says, “Tomorrow is a lease I have to sign every morning,” you more than believe him, you empathize with him, you relate to him. And while he continues to root beneath your rib cage, plucking strings, throughout the book with lines like, “What’s more punk rock / than living despite all that / which has tried to make you not?” and “The future has been / at war, but it’s coming home so soon…I saw the future, I did, and in it I was alive” there are moments of genuine brevity and mirth. I’ll leave you with a quote from a poem titled “Psalm 12, In Which the Author Alienates His Audience” to prove my point:
“I can no longer hide the way / I feel. Cats suck. Cats are / proof that Satan exists and wants us / to suffer. Cats are like if a cuddlier / animal, say a rabbit or a shark, were very intent on breaking / all of your shit.”
*Copies of both The Future and Our Numbered Days are available today in our poetry section (and online here). And check out Button Poetry on Facebook to hear Neil Hilborn’s performances.