Wilhelmina Denness: Supporting Neil Hilborn on Tour
Last summer Wilhelmina Denness earned a coveted support slot on Neil Hilborn's UK Tour. Here's what it was like.
Ask a spoken word enthusiast about their favourite poets and there's a good chance Neil Hilborn will be one of the top listed.
Neil's global recognition took flight when Button Poetry published his performance of ‘OCD', a poem that currently stands at over 12 million views and counting. As with most of his work, there is a great emphasis on mental illness and dealing with it, despite the veil between the two worlds being so thin. Even so, by tackling the viscous fibers of the mind, challenging them, Neil has given others the opportunity to find identification in what he does, as well as a way to see beauty beyond that impassable bridge.
Last summer I was fortunate enough to gain a support slot for two dates on Neil’s UK Tour. Both venues were new to the spoken-word environment, which meant the pressure was on. For one, to perform for the first time professionally was daunting. Secondly, being the first spoken word event at each venue intensified my need to change the stereotype of poetry readings as being far from the mundane.
Spoken word is a performative process. And a farce. It's your own stand-up comedy show dedicated to both exonerating and taking the piss out of your emotions, something that was undoubtedly confounding. There I was, ready to have it off with my emotions, be lyrical and evocative, and then I realised: I need to be entertaining. Above all else, that was my purpose. And I enjoyed it. Sometimes I would crack a joke about some of the bizarre writing exercises we enact in Falmouth University's writing workshops. Other times I made a fool of my own sorrows. The latter won the crowd. The truth is we appeal to those jokes the most because let’s face it, we’re self-deprecating little s**** who find comfort in a suffering that’s comparable to our own.
For me, there is a tangible difference between written poetry and spoken word. It was the reason I fell into poetry the way your heart beats to the rhythm of the union between you and destiny. It confronts you, forces you to look into the eyes of a stranger and cry with them. When I asked Neil what made spoken word so special he said that 'the most important aspect of spoken word is its immediacy.' How so? 'If you're reading a poem on a page you can literally set it aside and ignore what the author has to say, but if someone is performing a poem in front of you it is so much harder to ignore them. There's a human person who is physically in front of you, and it's difficult to dismiss someone's story when you can see how important it is on their face.'
Spoken word creates an intimate connection between poet and audience. The moment you step on that stage and connect with your words, you're hooked. I had people come to me with thanks and appreciation, others to say you spoke my mind, you addressed what hasn't been touched on before, and those who came over just to ask for a hug. It was beautiful.
Spoken word is a writing platform that's accessible to everyone. In Falmouth alone we have Spokes and WordZoo. But if that’s not enough? Take it further. Create your own event. Make your words be heard. And it is so so easy. Like Neil points out:
‘To perform that poem you don't need anything other than your body and whatever it's capable of doing. I think that everyone should at least once try writing and performing a poem, because the barrier to entry is basically nothing.’
After a summer of feeling doubtful about my writing and what I had to offer as a poet, performance writing gave me the chance to fully immerse myself in the writing world on an immersive scale. If there's one thing I took from it, it's that it gave me back my identity as writer, which for all creatives, is a profound and spiritual awakening that must be cherished amid the wasteland of our own fears.
by Wilhelmina Denness