Photo by Katie Greene/STAFF
On Wednesday, Nov. 2, Last Minute Productions hosted one of slam poetry’s rising stars. Neil Hilborn, the viral lyric sensation, performed a set of original poetry in the University Center Illusions. The performance, free to students, was followed by a meet and greet session in which students could interact with the author and purchase copies of the poet’s various works.
Hilborn is a nationally recognized poet holding a degree in Creative Writing from Macalester College and a 2011 College National Poetry Slam championship title. After footage of his poems “OCD” and “The Future” were shared by the viral content distributor named Upworthy, Hilborn and his work became familiar internationally. Hilborn has since published a book titled “Our Numbered Days” and has toured across the United States. A second book, according to the author, is also in the works and is expected to be released by Button Publishers.
Hilborn’s stage presence is magnetic and the entire audience was drawn in immediately. With such an intimate setting, maintaining distance between performer and audience is difficult but the poet used this to his full advantage. His manner was direct and engaging as he constantly reminded himself, and the audience, that his readings were not meant to be taken too seriously. Self-deprecating humor is Hilborn’s specialty and, when combined with brutal honesty, it makes for a riveting performance.
The vast majority of Hilborn’s poetry is autobiographical in nature, surrounding significant events and people he has encountered throughout his life. In his roughly 27 years of experience, the poet has found plenty of source material to draw from.
Born in Houston, Texas, Hilborn grew up in the supportive care of his family. His interest in poetry and creative writing developed after years of learning to manage obsessive compulsive disorder, with which he was diagnosed at a young age. Despite proximity of family, Hilborn decided to leave Houston immediately after completing high school, attending Macalester College in St. Paul, Minnesota. The change in climate provided an initial shock but Hilborn soon enjoyed his new home. His experiences throughout college, including being diagnosed with bipolar disorder, made a significant impact on his worldview and work.
As Hilborn stated: “Poetry is therapy.”
This use of art as a method of processing emotions has led Hilborn to produce a vast number of raw, intense poems addressing life and living with mental illness. Woven into the fabric of each performance is Hilborn’s life story, from early explorations into new surroundings to young love and beyond. His work has developed as the author himself has matured.
In this particular performance, Hilborn performed some of his classics while also introducing brand new material that had yet to be tested on an audience. Even in this vulnerable performance, the poet was blatantly honest about his process and work, welcoming the audience’s input after the show.
On the surface, a poetry reading might seem like an event only a small percentage of the population might be interested in but the major themes of Hilborn’s works are universal. The content and presentation of his poetry resonates with many students and young adults. Hilborn’s spoken performances and workshops have taken place at high schools across the country, in addition to universities.
Despite a busy schedule, Hilborn was able to enjoy the beauty and hospitality of the Western Carolina University campus for a brief time. His opinion of the visit was generally very positive, especially regarding the warm welcome he received from students and staff as well as the beautiful scenery surrounding the campus.
When asked about the most memorable aspects of his visit, Hilborn replied: “I think the Catamount may be the most intimidating mascot I’ve seen. Having such a folksy name for something that would carry off small children is a little terrifying.”
For more information on slam poetry champion Neil Hilborn and to follow his future progress, you can visit his Facebook page at www.facebook.com/neilhilborn.
Neil Hilborn’s performance and similar events are hosted by the student-led group Last Minute Productions. For more information regarding upcoming events and ticket prices, contact Last Minute Productions at 828-227-7479 or firstname.lastname@example.org.