Slam poetry is usually slagged off the same way that interpretive dance or improv comedy is—as a thing most people dread having friends ask to watch them do. Even people who love poetry are often loathe to attend slam sessions. A new video, however, serves as a stark reminder that with the right marriage of subject and speaker, not to mention powerful delivery, this sort of thing can be equal parts electrifying and heartbreaking.
When Neil Hilborn performed during the Individual Finals of this year’s Rustbelt Regional Poetry Slam in late July, it’s unlikely that he realized how many people he’d eventually reach with it. Thanks to the up-voters over at Reddit, however, Hilborn’s stunning soliloquy on what it’s like to try and love someone while suffering from Obsessive Compulsive Disorder is now echoing all over the Internet.
The aptly titled OCD is a window into its author’s head and heart that is alternately funny ("I asked her out six times, and on the third time she said yes. But none of them felt right, so I kept going") and wrenching ("How can it be a mistake when I don’t have to wash my hands after I touch her?"). It would read as funny on paper, but it’s the performance aspect that hit home.
Hilburn mimics traits that are classically associated with OCD—speeding up cadence suddenly, gesticulating wildly, repeating phrases—and even appears to suffer some of the disease’s nervous tics. According to the author’s comments on his own Reddit thread, "[the tics] are an intentional performance, but they are also my actual tics. Sometimes in performance they become real."
When the poet addresses the issue of whether the poem’s subject heard it and subsequently reconciled, he admits, "She did come back . . . and then left, and then came back, and then left again." It should go without saying that people without OCD are capable of repeating patterns, too.
Watch another performance from Hilborn below.