Our Numbered Days, Neil Hilborn’s debut book, is full of old soul poetry for the young mind. Hilborn is most known for his spoken word performances, specifically his poem “OCD,” which went viral on YouTube in 2013.
“OCD” sets the tone in giving a transitional look into Hilborn’s outlooks on mental illness and how it plays a critical part in navigating love and loss. With his poignant style and lyrical tone, Hilborn not only speaks about his struggles from an outside perspective but writes a letter to them for all that they are worth.
The title Our Numbered Days derives from a poem of the same name, but what is so interesting about this choice of title for the work as a whole is the fact that seven poems appear under the same heading, all with different content tying back into the variations of loss and what is at stake when we forget that our time with what we love is running out with each passing second.
The organization of the book flows by underlying tones of humor broken by those of a more solemn sort. Poems such as “Our Numbered Days,” as mentioned above, often seem to break off patterns of humor that surge throughout the poems leading up to each. With this method, Hilborn brings the reader a sense of comfort in his playful approach to serious topics in order to make the pain of his deepest sorrows even more pointed.
After following this approach, the book leaves behind its sense of finality in death and leaves the reader to question whether heaven is a place found beyond the grave or rather in the glimpses of true perfection found throughout our everyday lives, as Hilborn seems to believe.
As aforementioned, mental illness is a theme that runs throughout the book, though it fluctuates in its being outwardly stated or simply implied. Here, Hilborn takes a quick and precise approach that skips the flowery metaphorical language considered to be wildly popular and instead sinks its teeth into the reality of everything that literary mental illness is not.
With this in mind, a selection from Hilborn’s poem “Little Poems” comes to mind: “How to Kill Yourself without Hurting Anyone / Don’t” (p. 43). Perhaps it is not the approach to mental illness that readers are used to, but it seems to be the approach needed to begin to properly address an issue that is extremely prevalent and coming into light at the present time.
Hilborn’s poetry in Our Numbered Days also addresses the themes of love and loss, often in tandem with each other. Despite the humorous undertones that permeate the book, Hilborn shares his perspective on blatant infatuation of newfound admiration, only to jerk it away suddenly, while the reader is still reveling in the nostalgia of a first date or kiss. Combined with blunt language and brash displays of affection, Hilborn effectively seems to state that love is nothing more than saying “I love you” on the first date or putting “a single red sock in with your sheets” (p. 30).
With the organization and themes of Our Numbered Days considered, the aspect that ties every piece together is Hilborn’s ability to paint a detailed and sobering setting. From the woman in “Bystander Paralysis” shoving furniture from Ikea into her subcompact screaming “Curse / these weak, beautiful arms!” (p. 13) to the ethereal scene painted in the book’s closing poem, “Liminality,” with a pair of lovers driving in the remote distance as their “headlights snake across / the West Texas highway” (p. 61), Hilborn does a fantastic job of revoking both small town and mystical settings that are simple enough to recall and magical to imagine.
Perhaps it is the humorous and almost satirical nature of Our Numbered Days that has caused its popularity, but regardless of the cause, this book of poetry is a worthwhile read for those who enjoy contemporary and freeform poetry with a voice all of its own.
Our Numbered Days was published by Button Poetry and Exploding Pinecone Press in 2015 and can be purchased here on Button Poetry’s website.
About the Author Neil Hilborn
Neil Hilborn is a poet best known for his spoken word poetry, specifically his poem titled “OCD,” which went viral on YouTube in 2013. Hilborn has also worked in competitive spoken word, both as a performer and coach. He has published two works of poetry: his debut being a chapbook titled Clatter.
Our Numbered Days is Hilborn’s first full-length book of poetry, which has achieved great success since hitting bookshelves in 2015.