"The Act of Living as a Worshipful Experience" and Today Means Amen

If you crave the feeling of intimacy through poetry, you will love the newest publication from Button Poetry co-founder and two-time National Poetry Slam champion Sierra DeMulder. Her fourth book, Today Means Amen, derives its title from the spoken word poem that has received over a hundred thousand views on Button Poetry’s YouTube channel. Each poem invites us into DeMulder’s life in the way one converses with a confidant.

Today Means Amen , Andrews McMeel. February 2016.

Today Means Amen, Andrews McMeel. February 2016.

The book contains five sections of poetry titled “Bowl of Diamonds,” “A Beehive Pitched in the River,” “Pay the Boatman,” “Some Invisible Machine,” and “Sing to Me Then”. These phrases appear throughout the poems within their respective section, but themes such as trauma, family, and relationships to the body continue through the entire book.

Trauma generally leaves survivors with feelings of loneliness, as few individuals can fully understand or empathize with the pain that seem to escape description. DeMulder summarizes this attempt to express the inexpressible best in “Uninhabitable” when she asks, “What is it about the family that draws us back to the uninhabitable? That compels us to make a bed where there isn’t one?” For those who feel alone with their experiences, these poems present a survivor who can relate; a woman who refuses to ignore or keep quiet about it. The popularity of the title poem indicates that thousands of others relate, too. The first words you read are borrowed from writer Jason Shinder: “…it is that you’re my friend out here on the far reaches of what humans can find out about each other.” Likewise, DeMulder writes in the style of confessional poetry popularized by women like Sylvia Plath, whom DeMulder references in the poem “The Origin of the Heart As An Indicator of Love.”

Each poem invites us into DeMulder’s life in the way one converses with a confidant.

Those who connect with such personal poems will enjoy this book. It provides validation for those who have fought the same monsters as DeMulder, such as abuse or feelings of unworthiness. Without glamorizing or shying away from her life, she tackles issues such as mental health struggles with stark language. In her poem “My Lover Found Me Weeping on the Couch,” she confesses of death, “This, which is not at all beautiful nor poetic.” Instead of idealizing the pain, DeMulder transforms it into hope, a cry of hallelujah for every reader that is alive, right now, reading these poems.

This is especially effective in her poems concerning her sister’s eating disorder, a topic commonly shamed or falsely romanticized. One poem begins with the lines “Once, I held a newborn baby in my arms—three weeks old, naked as the truth comes…this is how to love the healing.” Later, DeMulder compares the moth-like heartbeat to her sister’s recovery: “It feels so small. A newborn. A whisper. A fluttering of smothered wings.” In this way, DeMulder chooses imagery that conveys the grave danger of the eating disorder, yet without ever condemning her sister. At the same time, the images convey the purity and newness of the recovery process.

As the co-founder of Button Poetry, DeMulder often performs spoken word poetry, and her poems pack the most powerful punch when read aloud. Linger on lines such as “Your words are weapons: your voice is the strength it takes to read them.” Reading aloud ensures that one does not accidentally skip over the many gems tucked within stanzas. The incisive wit, radical self-love, and bare vulnerability make her poetry an event with which to fully engage in the moment. One sentence may provoke tears, but more often than not, the next will ease them.

This blunt style of writing also provides accessibility for new readers. Lines such as “I stared into your chest that night as if it were a telescope” do not require extensive literature education to comprehend, yet communicate a visceral image. For readers unfamiliar with modern poetry, it can be an intimidating experience to read one’s first book. Today Means Amen offers straightforward language that may help readers who want to try contemporary poetry, but do not consider themselves experts.

One sentence [of DeMulder’s poetry] may provoke tears, but more often than not, the next will ease them.

Whether detailing a breakup or a fight with a lover, a sexual encounter, or a Google search for affirmations in the aftermath of abuse, DeMulder heals each situation with hopeful words. For example, when one man hesitates to look at her naked body, she writes, “I can only assume that it is true what they say about God: it is impossible for man to look upon the face of the sublime and not be ruined by it.”

The former poem, “Exodus 33:20”, references a verse from Jewish and Christian Scripture. As in that poem, she frequently incorporates spiritual language without requiring expertise or devotion to any specific religion. This allows for readers to interpret the language within their individual understandings of spirituality. Without sermonizing, DeMulder encourages the reader to have faith in a variety of ways. In “After Googling Affirmations for Abuse Survivors,” she writes, “I am my own higher power. I carried myself out.” In these poems, faith never preaches, but empowers. She presents the act of living as a worshipful experience of sexuality, self-love, and liberation.

This collection celebrates life while recognizing its imperfections, welcoming readers to participate in a hallelujah and amen for another day. You won’t regret accepting the invitation.

Today Means Amen is available through Andrews McMeel Publishing and can be purchased in bookstores, online, and for Kindle.