Jenna: OCD is very clearly your most popular poem online. Why do you think that happens to be the one that has the most appeal?
Neil: I think that…it’s funny, when I wrote that poem, I was never trying to write a hit, you know? I was just trying to figure out a way what it was like to express what it was like to both have OCD and try to have personal relationships when you have that particular anxiety disorder. So, I just figured that that story would be the most concise way to try to get people to understand what was going on. So I think at the heart of it, people connect with it because it’s a love story, but then they feel like they’ve reached a new place in their lives. They have some new understanding because there’s also an element of talking honestly about a mental illness woven into it. People connect with it on an emotional level and also on an intellectual level, which is why I think it really hit home for a lot of people.
Do you have a favorite to perform?
Yes, the poem that I closed with: The Future. That’s my absolute favorite poem to perform. I’ve been doing it for about a year and a half now and I still love it every time I do it, always find something new to love about it.
Do you close all the time with it?
Almost always. There are a few occasions when I don’t, but those are usually in the middle of a set, I change up what’s going on.
This is just a question I thought of while watching you. When you had that poem you didn’t normally like to read, but you felt like you should read it, what was different about here? You did mention a few differences about this location.
The audience here was just very, very welcoming and receptive and energetic. Just really generous with their energy…the absolute best shows are where the audience is, like, I’m giving so much energy out and the best shows are where the audience just gives that much energy back to me. This audience was so generous and present, just willing to hear what was going on. This specific poem which is tentatively titled Here in a Way, was…I literally heard it. I heard the words of that poem in someone else’s voice in my head. It was just like, “Oh, I should do this right now, someone really needs to hear this. So, that’s why I did that poem.
One last thing, getting into the cliché territory: any advice for…anyone, for just writers or spoken word or people who are new to either one?
Yeah, 100%. So, I’m going to steal something from Ira Glass, and this is paraphrasing, but he basically says that every time you start out in an art form, there’s this long period of time where your taste and the things you know are good in that art form exceeds your ability to create. You know that what you’re creating doesn’t live up to sort of the ideal, which you’re unable to get past that. And so, the only way that I’ve found to move on from that stage is one, to not beat yourself up for not being perfect because nobody’s ever perfect. And two, if you have to, write the cliché. If you’re stuck on something because you know it’s a cliché and you don’t want to write down something about the moon, write about the moon. Write about ribcages, write about volcanoes if that’s what you need to write about because once you write that down, then you can go to your next thought, and your next thought might be brilliant, you know what I mean? But, if you hadn’t written down that cliché line, you couldn’t, maybe you’ll never get to that brilliance because your brain’s not in the right place. So, don’t, especially writing first drafts, don’t self-edit. Just write down whatever comes up, because you can go back and cut it later. You’re totally in control of the poem and if you look back at something and it’s cliché, it’s gone. It’s not part of the poem anymore. So, just don’t beat yourself up if you’re not perfect at the time is how I feel.