I saw Neil Hilborn perform in Nashville a couple of months ago. He’s one of my favorite contemporary poets so the night would have been magical no matter what, but he actually ended up doing a meet and greet after the show.
Some backstory. Neil Hilborn’s first book Our Numbered Days is one of my favorite books of poetry of all time. His poems on mental illness and love are so relatable and the language he uses to talk about these topics is so clear, and despite the severity, beautiful. But long story short, I lent Our Numbered Days out and it ended up tied to a painful relationship and I never got my copy back.
So, at the Nashville show, I bought a new copy alongside his new book The Future. When it was my turn to meet Hilborn, I planned to give him my books, so he could sign them, but I ended up telling him the story of not getting my copy of Our Numbered Days back from someone who said they didn’t love me.
“I think that’s how this book should leave your hands,” he said, as he signed both books.
When I got home, I looked at the signatures in the books. On the title page of Our Numbered Days, Hilborn had signed his name alongside the words, Love isn’t real. It felt fitting. I was surprised when I opened The Future. Love is real, it read.
This book is so whole, so all-encompassing. It was a perfect dichotomy, a perfect practice in cognitive dissonance. I think that’s one of the coolest things about The Future. It is full of these opposites and the acknowledgment that they can exist at the same time. It’s possible for someone to be surrounded by love and beauty and happiness and still be depressed. I know this because I’ve experienced it. I’ve been able to come to terms with it through the help of therapy and supportive communities and, honestly, Hilborn.
The Future contains a variety of poems, from comedic pieces to pieces about love to pieces about friendship to pieces about mental illness. My favorite poem in the book is called “For Henry,” which begins about a pet rat and then unravels into an exploration of hope, of knowing that one day there will be something better. I never expected to cry so hard over a poem about a rat.
In the future, this book tells us, maybe we will be okay, even if we’re not okay right now. In the future, maybe it will not hurt to wake up in the morning. In the future, maybe I will be able to ask for help. In the future, maybe someone will need me. In the future, maybe love will be real.
Check out Neil Hilborn performing his poem “For Henry” here: