Neil Hilborn: Brings Light to Darkness at UWSP
Hilborn brought an electric energy to his performance on Saturday in The Encore. Photo by Mary Knight.

Neil Hilborn: Brings Light to Darkness at UWSP

Neil Hilborn graced the Encore stage on Nov. 12 by performing a range of both tear jerking poetry to hilarious jokes for students and fans at the University of Wisconsin-Stevens Point.

Hilborn’s poetry went Internet viral with his heartbreaking performance of “OCD,” a poem about falling in love while having obsessive-compulsive disorder.

“OCD” was uploaded to YouTube in 2013 and has reached over 12 million hits and counting, making it one of the most viewed poems on YouTube.

Hilborn said it has taken him a substantial amount of practice and hard work to become the poet he is today, but that he started writing poetry at a young age.

“I wrote my fist poem when I was 8, and it was awful; it was about the moon, and it was inspired by one of those Calvin and Hobbes books that are always big and full of color,” Hilborn said.

Hilborn said he started writing spoken word poetry during his sophomore year of  college while he reminisced over his first poem being bad.

Photo by Mary Knight.

Photo by Mary Knight.

When it comes to his writing process, Hilborn said that it can be very two fold in the sense that he either gets a spark of inspiration, or he has to work a bit harder to get the poem to work the way he wants it to.

“There are two things, one is this lightning bolt kind of moment and with that I stop whatever I’m doing, I sit down and I write a poem; it just kind of happens where I wake up at the end of it and I’m like, ‘cool, a poem,’” Hilborn said.

While Holborn said immediate inspiration is ideal, he stressed that a more realistic approach to poetry is constant revision.

“The other one that I do more than anything is that I sit down and I write a poem every day, and most of them are bad with a bunch of brain garbage, a bunch of clichés and stupid things, but you just have to write through that, get all the brain garbage out and then produce whatever poem is behind that” Hilborn said.

While a lot of Hilborn’s poems have funny undertones, such as Ode’s to his jean vest, the other side to his work revolves around mental health illness and the struggles that people, including himself, have gone through.

Hilborn advocates for those that have mental health conditions and hopes to bring light to this subject that some find hard to talk about.

“I just feel like it’s this thing that people always feel so much embarrassment and shame around talking about whatever is going on in their heads,” Hilborn said. “It’s this thing that is so big and scary most of the time that I feel like if we can laugh about it that it will make things so much easier to talk about.”

How Neil expresses himself on stage, as well as broadcasting his view on mental health illness, was extremely prevalent to his audience.

Leah Trempe, junior English education and drama major, said that the way Neil addresses mental health illness is new and something necessary for people to see.

“It became apparent through watching him that laughing is one of his ways of coping with his mental illness,” Trempe said. “He needed to laugh at his situation to make it more bearable as he was becoming so incredibly vulnerable with us in his poetry.”

Gigi Stahl, senior English education major also shared her love for Neil’s work when she said that spoken word is important because it gives people the permission to feel.

“Neil is amazing because he shines light on the darkest parts of life and always finds something to laugh about,” Stahl said.

Hilborn not only wants to spread awareness about mental health illness, but also his love of spoken word and poetry to as many people as his message will reach to.

“There are people that have been doing spoken word forever who inspire others to speak, but I think that the most powerful thing that I’ve seen is watching people who are brand new who have never performed a poem before,” Hilborn said. “The moment they get up to share something that is a part of themselves and then an audience vibes with it, reacts to it and that moment when people realize and feel so validated and heard by a group of people.”

Hilborn said he believes that spoken word and poetry has the power to change the world and that he has already seen it happen on multiple occasions.

“I have seen so many people who feel like they didn’t have a voice become empowered by the art form and take that to other arenas,” Hilborn said. “I know a lot of the spoken word community is very intertwined with a lot of activist communities. I think that it’s still a little bit of an underground art from involved with social change, but I think it’s a really big vehicle and motivator for social change.”

Hilborn said his ultimate goals as a performer are two things: to make people laugh and to make people feel like they’re not alone.

“I think that we spend so much of our lives being serious and even in my show I try to tell a lot of jokes because people aren’t trying to have feelings for an hour,” Hilborn said. “Feelings are important and it’s important to be serious and reflective, but I think in a lot of ways that it’s almost more important to be able to laugh together.”

“Our Numbered Days,” is a compilation of poems written by Hilborn and can be bought on Amazon or through Button Poetry.

For more information about Hilborn you can follow him on Facebook at,

Lhea Owens

Arts and Entertainment Editor

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