Our Number Days by Neil Hilborn is a collection of poems dealing with grief, mental illness, and the realities of love. Neil Hilborn is a Button Poetry writer who has competed at spoken word competitions all over the U.S. Most recently, he traveled on his own tour reading his spoken word poems to live audiences and promoting his new book. Our Numbered Days is his first full-length poetry collection.
The Good Stuff:
Neil Hilborn does a great job of presenting complex emotions genuinely. If you’ve seen this book on twitter at all, you know that people play up how sad the poems are. Those comments have merit, but I think it short changes the poems to say they’re only sad.
Hilborn’s writing style makes me feel like he’s always choosing to be honest with me as a reader even when the details of the situation he’s referencing are clearly presented from his point of view. In other words, he’s good at speaking his truth but leaves the door open for interpretation.
In my mind, I can hear Hilborn saying the poems aloud, but I can also hear myself saying them. There were a lot of great lines that I connected with profoundly. Many of the poems read in multiple tones because Hilborn integrates complex emotions throughout, and I like the duplicity of that. For instance, I read lines such as “Life on earth will in some ways / be easier. I will not have to return / her phone calls.” From “Our Numbered Days ” with a sense of both mourning and relief. I like that those two emotions are being allowed to coexist without one being edited out to play up the other. Life is like that too – we often experience multiple conflicting emotions at once. I love that Neil captures that so well throughout the collection.
The epigraphs set the tone well for each piece. In several poems a half dozen or more epigraphs appear before a short poem which allows outside voices (of the people being quoted) to influence the piece. It seems like Hilborn’s way of giving us context about what he was feeling and thinking about while writing without oversimplifying it or detracting from the main story of the poem.
The epigraphs are a way of zooming out from the poem while bringing the reader closer to its meaning. That probably sounds ridiculous to some people, but in my head, it’s like unraveling and raveling a piece of yarn each time I read one of the epigraph’s in this collection. It had a strong effect me as a reader.
“MSP PHI LGA ALB PHI MSP”
“Ballad of a Bruised Lung”
“The Red Sheets”
There are several poems throughout the piece which are all titled “Our Numbered Days.” I liked the thread that these poems carry and the way they further developed the title; however, it really annoyed me that they weren’t numbered or distinguished in any way from each other. Every time I came across one, it pulled me out of the book and made me wonder if I had accidentally scrolled back to the beginning of the eBook (I was reading on an iPad, so it wasn’t as easy to recognize where I was in the book right away). It happened several times before I learned to ignore that feeling and stay engrossed in the book. I really didn’t like being pulled out of the book in that way.
There were a few poems that left me wanting more. It’s normal to find a few poems I don’t care for in a given collection, so this isn’t a huge deal, but I wish I’d walked away from those poems with a line or two to think about. “The News Anchor is Crying,” “I’m Sorry Your Kids Are Such Little Shits and that We Are in the Same Zen Garden,” and “Parking Meter Theory,” are examples of poems that left me feeling a little unanchored, a little insecure. I wanted to have more footing in the story of these poems to go along with the images and the voice.
Overall, I thought the collection was enjoyable and found some nice lines to dig into. I consider poems featured by Button Poetry (like many of Neil’s poems are) to be accessible reads for anyone trying to get into poetry and learn more about the craft. If you like poetry that focus on the narrative first, these will be enjoyable poems for you.
If you’ve seen any of Neil Hilborn’s performances on YouTube or read Our Numbered Days, be sure to leave a comment so I can hear your thoughts!
Poet. Reader. Lifelong Student.