Speedy Ortiz musician revisits her early 20s with poems that capture sadness, alienation

Sadie Dupuis felt cut off after moving from New York City to Amherst, Massachusetts, in 2011. Absent a network of friends and family, Dupuis also struggled with a range of physical ailments that only served to further isolate her from her new surroundings.

Collectively, these experiences form the pained backbone of Dupuis' debut poetry collection, Mouthguard (Gramma Press), comprised of pieces she wrote from 2011 to 2014 while earning her master's degree in poetry from UMass Amherst.

“I had been living in New York for a long time … and I kind of moved to this place where I didn't know anybody and then immediately got sick,” said Dupuis, perhaps best known as the singer, songwriter and guitarist in indie-rock band Speedy Ortiz, as well as for her solo work under the name Sad13. “When I started writing this book, I was mourning a couple of friends who had died. … I also had a number of new diagnoses that I didn't know how to cope with. I was hospitalized and I just felt very distrustful of my body; I was angry at it for not being the strong thing that as a teenager I'd imagined it would be. So I think a lot of the book is not only the grief of losing friends, but also realizing that the body isn't this permanent thing that you can forever trust.”

These emotions surface in despondent poems like “I Don't Even Like Candy,” in which Dupuis writes, “Oh there are people who survive/the tearing of their limb/on impact, I feel it.”

For Dupuis, revisiting this time period felt necessary — she lamented that it has taken this long to publish the collection, pointing to a flourishing music career for much of the delay — while also reminding her how much her worldview has changed in the years since she first put pen to paper while living in Amherst.

“In a way, I feel like so much of … creating art now is about engaging with the outside world and using art as a form of protest and as a form of engagement for social issues that matter to me,” said Dupuis, who will read from Mouthguard at Two Dollar Radio Headquarters on Tuesday, Nov. 20. “Whereas this book is very much like, ‘This is me. This is my sadness. Here's what it feels like to be sad.' And I love reading books like that because it's kind of an escape from reading horrifying news every day or from going to a protest. You can just kind of curl up on the couch and be like, ‘This is what sadness feels like.' … I just can't really make it anymore. It isn't so much my modality at this point.”

Moving forward, Dupuis anticipates that her poetry, like her music, will evolve to reflect this more outward view, though it appears comfort will continue to remain in short supply.

“I'm very influenced by contemporary poets who are speaking in a much more conversational and funny and Twitter-adjacent tongue, if that makes sense,” she said. “I think the more recent poetry I've done is less indebted to magic and witches and more indebted to, like, this horrifying world and the internet.”