Two years before her band Speedy Ortiz released its first album, Sadie Dupuis moved to Western Massachusetts to begin work on her master’s degree in poetry. She had been living in New York, where she’d put down roots: She played in a band called Quilty and felt connected to the city’s dynamic musical community. The move to Amherst was a rough one. She hardly knew anyone in her new home, and before she got the chance to settle in, she was confronted with a series of chronic and isolating health problems. “I didn’t really have any identity in this new place,” she says over the phone from England, where Speedy Ortiz is on tour. “I was struggling with sickness and I had no idea who I was.”
Dupuis’s first poetry book Mouthguard, out today, November 1, from Gramma Press, collects poems she wrote from 2011 to 2014 for her master’s degee. During that time span, she uploaded the first Speedy Ortiz demos to Bandcamp, signed to Carpark Records, released the band’s debut album Major Arcana to broad acclaim, and started touring full-time. The oldest poems in Mouthguard originate in the same year Dupuis decided to slap the name Speedy Ortiz on a handful of reflective, melancholy solo songs; the newest, she wrote in a van during the band’s first European tour. Her life has changed drastically since she started working on the manuscript she’s now preparing to release. When she reads her poems now, it feels as if they were written by a different person.
The music Dupuis makes now, with Speedy Ortiz and the poppier solo project Sad13, projects her sharp humor onto bright, ebullient backdrops. Her songs course with a surreal darkness — she often sings between gritted teeth about how misogyny haunts the world — but her keen ear for melody, along with the band’s choppy rock instrumentation, keeps her work light on its feet. Mouthguard has more in common with Speedy Ortiz’s early work. Water — a frozen lake — stands in for depression on the band’s 2013 song “No Below,” and water abets death in the poem “Ankle Bleeding Makes The Trail”: “Down along the dark road, cars upside down or in rivers. / What I mean is they get stuck in the water and time only needs / one accomplice to destroy.” Because of the illness she was shouldering at the time, Dupuis’s poems and early Speedy lyrics both focus on the body as a site of frustration and decay. “Don’t even care if they take my legs / I’ve limped before, I could limp again,” she sang on “Tiger Tank.” In the poem “I Don’t Even Like Candy,” she writes, “Oh there are people who survive / the tearing of their limb / on impact, I feel it.” The modes of delivery are different, but read Dupuis’s words together and it can seem as though her poems are commenting on her songs, and vice versa. Both play in the same bleak universe.