Brisbane’s spoken word scene is, frankly, epic. When it comes to poetry, this town punches well above its weight.
Even so, when you get a chance to see international talent rock the stage, it’s hard to pass up.
Neil Hilborn has a face and voice you might recognise, given that a performance of his poem ‘OCD’ for ‘Button Poetry’ went all kinds of viral a few years back, and keeps flaring back into the social media consciousness.
For a world that often assumes poetry is declarations of love and staring at fluffy clouds and kittens, ‘OCD’ was a revelation. Its honesty is on the brutal end of the spectrum.
There’s no promise of a happy ending no matter how much you wish for it, and the conversation around how hard it is to have OCD, and how hard it can be to be in a relationship with someone who has it, allowed for some impressive social media conversations around the realities of mental illness.
Neil is the kind of writer and poet more than capable of exploring the darker moments of life with a deft and compassionate hand.
Watching him rock the stage, it’s hard not to appreciate that he embraces his tics while performing. He doesn’t shy away from potentially awkward moments, doesn’t try to force himself into the mould of the stereotypical poet.
He’s charming, witty and self-deprecating, quick to cut away the romanticised ideas to make way for honesty. And it makes for one hell of a show.
As dark as his work can be, there’s always a hint of humour to soften the emotional impact. In between works, he meanders through a range of stories and tangents that keep the mood light and the audience guessing.
This is poetry at its most visceral and yet, it’s still utterly beautiful to see. Just the opening line of ‘OCD’ was enough to get the crowd screaming and cheering.
This is Neil’s first Australian tour, and Brisbane was his first Australian show. The night (at The Zoo, 7 December) was opened by local musician Beth Lucas, an indie muso with a powerhouse voice and a knack for emotionally, compelling lyrical narrative.
For an hour, Beth took the audience on an exploration of life, love and everything in between - and let’s be honest, that’s an incredibly difficult task when the audience is waiting for another act to start (and, in this case, when a glitch meant many of us were told to arrive an hour earlier than necessary to stand in line).
That she managed it is testament to her talent.
This wasn’t a night of hyper-intellectualism; Neil’s poetry style is more down and dirty than high-brow, with a love of cussing and a habit of saying universal truths in among the chaos of life in the modern world.
If you think poetry events are polite clapping and general toffishness, get thee to one of Neil Hilborn’s remaining shows.