According to one viral poet, mental health and humor can easily coincide. College National Poetry Slam Champion Neil Hilborn came to the University of Indianapolis on Feb. 27 to perform a series of his original poems. Hilborn reached fame when a Button Poetry video of his poem “OCD” went viral in 2013, gaining over 13 million views.
Hilborn’s set at the event featured ten other poems with titles like “Me, But Happy” and “Joey.” The poems that Hilborn presented at the event focused on the same thing: how mental health and personal life intertwine and how to represent that through humor.
“I think the biggest thing that I hope people get from my set is that yes, mental health is something that you have to treat seriously,” Hilborn said. “But it’s not necessarily something you have to take seriously.”
Throughout the evening, Hilborn said his poems were divided up between so-called happy poems and sad poems. In reality, however, the distinction is not quite so clear-cut, according to Hilborn.
Each poem had a mix of both happiness and sadness regardless of the label. He said being able to tackle his mental illness through humor serves as a coping mechanism for him.
“Something about making jokes about it [my mental illness] makes it seem less big and scary in my head,” Hilborn said. “It becomes something that I can tackle as opposed to something that just scares me all the time.”
Freshman psychology and criminal justice major Sabrina Camargo said she found the mix of humor and sadness effective. She said she was amused by how Hilborn continuously interrupted his poems with funny anecdotes, yet still managed to make an impactful statement.
“He took a serious topic and turned it into something that I feel people our age can truly relate to,” Camargo said.
Hilborn has two main writing processes. He said the first involves waking up early in the morning, going to a coffee shop, and not leaving until he has four or five poems written, even if they are bad poems. The second involves a lot of reading.
“If I’m not inspired, I just pull out poetry books that I’m into and I read and I analyze really deeply until I find something in there that inspires me, whether it’s an image or some turn of phrase,” Hilborn said. “Most of the stuff I create is based on the art I consume.”
According to Hilborn, writing can be very therapeutic. Because of this, he said he believes that anyone should at least try to write something in their lives, whether it be prose, poetry or some other medium, even if it means no one sees it.
“The art form of writing has the lowest barrier of entry,” Hilborn said. “All you need is a pen and a piece of paper, and you can steal those things. Everybody who is going through anything should try to write something to help them reason through it in their heads.”
Hilborn closed off the evening with his poem “The Future,” which dealt with serious topics such as suicidal ideation. He spoke about how, at one point in his life, he genuinely did not see himself living past the age of 23. While never actively seeking out a way to commit suicide, he was convinced that by 23, he would be dead, whether by his hand or a freak accident. The poem “The Future” was written when he woke up and realized that he might live beyond 23.
“I know tomorrow is going to come because I’ve seen it,” Hilborn said in the poem. “I saw the future, I did, and in it I was alive.”
Hilborn is currently on tour. His new book “The Future” will be released in April.