New Shoes on a Dead Horse by Sierra DeMulder

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Winning just about every national poetry slam competition there is, Sierra DeMulder’s words and poetic swagger have won untouchable real estate in my bookshelf. DeMulder’s newest book, New Shoes on a Dead Horse re-defines confessional poetry; in fact, it pushes it aside and claims there is more to each and every picture. New Shoes on a Dead Horse is epic; it’s honest, raw, innovative, and it is filled to the brim with heartbreak and a dark freedom. A much more personal and mature achievement since The Bones Below, New Shoes on a Dead Horse focuses on human nature and its defects, the evidence of living, and the pangs of being alive. Every single poem reaches a loud climax; there is ringing of truth in every syllable.

DeMulder’s poems hysterically reflect different relationships (personal and general), our worst fears, and what hurts. In poems such as “The Perm” and “The New Kitchen,” DeMulder highlights the before and after of her parent’s divorce. In “The Perm,” she writes: “I am making my mother drive home / from the salon over and over and over,” to stress the old memory of the first time her mother defied her stubborn father with a drastic change in hair style. Later in the book, DeMulder describes her mother’s new kitchen, the one she uses post-divorce: “The dishes match- / something I can tell comforts my mother.” Both poems quietly offer sadness observed and lived, the kind that stains families and leaves them broken. Other tendencies, such as jealousy and self-destruction are painted fearlessly; DeMulder masters the provocative and truthful heartbreak. “On Watching Someone You Love Love Someone Else,” written in second person, deals with envy and torment by exposure to an ex-lover who has found someone else: “Does he fall for her features like rearranged furniture? When / he kisses her, does she taste like new paint?” The poem reads like a story we have all lived. In the end, although (you) have lost, although (your) pain is real and radiating, (you) must be reduced to a happy, stable figure. Happiness itself is investigated in poems such as “Fentanyl,” and “The Genius Complains about his Boss,” where depression, suicide, and the lack of confidence in self-existence are loudly discussed. Sierra DeMulder’s second collection of poetry has many arms and legs; although she addresses a gorgeously accumulated list of problems within ourselves and society, she does so masterfully, and with a young, fearless guerrilla girl voice.

The manner in which DeMulder puts her poems together creates a symbiotic relationship between content and form. Married to free verse, she is no formalist, yet all of her poems are confined by a sense of structure and tightness. Most of her poems are structured by couplets, tercets, or quatrains. However, the poet’s words and lines have a way of tidiness to them that still allow free movement; Sierra does not abuse the various structures and carefully constructs each line, each stanza, accordingly. In “Love, Forgive Me,” DeMulder structures her stanzas into tercets, creating a neat poem that is juxtaposed with its heavy content: the deconstruction of soul-mates. Poems such as “On Watching Someone You Love Love Someone Else” and “The Genius Goes to the Art Museum” are written in prose format. Here the space of the page works for the poems. DeMulder has a knack for one-liners; this can be attributed to the way she reads her poems on stage. She has a powerful stage presence, and it naturally lends itself to the page, where it creates dynamic flow. “This is the dumb cousin of love making” is a line from “The Genius Considers the Pros and Cons of Pornography,” a witty line that makes Sierra the poet that she is. What could have been divided into couplets, the poem gorgeously spills and moves with precision.

Sierra DeMulder’s second book of poetry is a powerful accomplishment, a must-read for anyone who loves writing that is real and in-your-face good. New Shoes on a Dead Horse spray paints anything and everything we have been anxious about in a succinct turbulence. Sierra moves you, shakes you, and leaves you feeling so much. Good poetry is carefully created to do just that.

Gina Vaynshteyn is the social media manager and associate editor of HelloGiggles, and has also written stuff for Bustle, Mic, The Los Angeles Review, and Portable TV. You can also find her poetry in PANK, Four Way Review, The Legendary, decomP, and more. Follow her on Twitter @ginainterrupted because you (probably) know you want to. More from this author →