This article originally appeared on VICE US.
2018 has been a good year for Sadie Dupuis. In April, her band Speedy Ortiz released its second full-length album, Twerp Verse, and throughout the year she has toured with Liz Phair and shared the stage with Against Me!, Foo Fighters, and The Breeders. And now to cap it all off, today marks the release of her first collection of poetry, titled Mouthguard (Gramma Press).
But for Sadie, much of the year’s highlights have been overshadowed by negative events in the real world. The tour with Liz Phair took place during the Kavanaugh hearings, and on the day of our interview to speak about Mouthguard we woke to news that the Trump administration wants to erase transgender people. “It’s been a weird day, just because the news is fucked today. But I guess that’s true every day,” says Sadie, sounding justifiably devastated. It’s her one day off on a two-week tour of the UK and she’d like to relax, but in 2018 that very activity seems to endorse apathy. Through her music she has cultivated one of the biggest platforms in indie rock, so it makes sense that she is online, tweeting and Instagramming about the news.
Speaking about Mouthguard, Sadie is aware that the poems reflect a slightly older version of herself. They were written between 2011 and 2014; a time when she admits to being more focused on understanding her personal trauma, rather than glancing out and seeing how her own experiences related to the larger narrative. For that reason, Mouthguard is a bit of a time capsule, because as Sadie explains, “I [have] sort of moved away from writing things that are intentionally personal and moved more towards personal experiences that are systemic, or towards more politically motivated writing.” Examine her full back catalog and you will see this shift. Describing her more recent work, like her 2016 solo debut as Sad13 and Speedy Ortiz’s Twerp Verse, she says, “I don’t personally care to go into my own sad-person woes anymore.” While her recent political writing is personal, the poems in Mouthguard are about coping with death and her fear of dying from a mystery illness. It was all very real and relevant to Sadie when she wrote it, and that’s what matters.
I Don’t Even Like Candy
Never having lived in a zoo I insist
this feels like nursing a surrogate
after my cub has perished.
Like getting sunlight
from an overhead bulb.
Oh there are people who survive
the tearing of their limb
on impact, I feel it.
I feel the impact
in the candy aisle.
You’ve described Mouthguard as a companion piece to Speedy Ortiz’s early work. How so?
In terms of what I was reading and feeling and influenced by, and the kind of language that I was interested in exploring, it coincides with when I was writing our first album (2015’s Foil Dear) and the two EPs. There are certain ways that I used language at that time that I think are different to the way I express myself and what I’m motivated by now. I had moved to Western Massachusetts from New York right after a couple of young friends had died… So my creative focus at that time was sort of in working through [that] grief. And right when I moved I also got very sick and was sick for the first half year with something that they couldn’t figure [out]. There was a minute where they thought I had Leukemia — it turned out that I had Lyme Meningitis — so there was this whole long ordeal of not knowing what was wrong with me.
I was grappling with these deaths and worrying that my death was imminent, and I’d just moved to this new place where I didn’t know anyone. I think a lot of [the work] is about me trying to understand that. Certainly the poetry is more explicitly about what was going on. It’s very personal writing. It’s very much about the feelings in my body, and feeling alienated because of those things. I really loved to tap into language, both on those early records and in this book, that derived from math and mysticism. I’ve kind of moved away from that as I’ve gotten older, but I still love reading stuff like that. It was really a treat to get to re-edit these poems and go through them as someone that doesn’t really write that way anymore.
You describe them as sad girl poems...
Definitely sad girl poems. Sad person poems.
Are there certain emotions that you try to channel, or that you reserve for each different project?
I think I’m a little bit helpless in terms of what emotions I’m channeling, it just depends on what I’m feeling at the time. Certainly with the music, I can kind of guess where to go based on how the music sounds. I tend to write the lyrics at the very end, so I already have what the music sounds like and what mood that’s giving me, and I can sort of tap into it from how the song is sounding. Whereas with a poem, I’m starting from the beginning. You’re really at the whim of what comes into your head, and in that way, sometimes it’s very revealing. You start with a blank page and then an hour later you have something that you didn’t know was inside of yourself. I wouldn’t say I’m writing either as a goal-oriented thing, but it really depends on what’s concerning me, and I think as I’ve gotten older my concerns are less geared towards myself and more towards collective struggles.
You mentioned that it was nice to go back and revise these poems. How much revision normally goes into a poem?
Some of the changes that were made were just very small line edits, or even word choice things. Things [where] I didn’t understand the full connotations of the language that I was using at the time that I wrote it. There’s one poem where I referred to myself as terribly blind, whereas now I find that phrase really ableist and wouldn’t ever put that in a poem. Stuff like that, where I could go back and be like, ‘Oh, that’s not really what I meant. How do I convey this meaning in a way that isn’t using hurtful language?’ Or even just little edits where I think the poem would read a little better if I cut out a line.
This is your first time working with a book publisher, but you’ve made chapbooks and zines before. Do you think your experience in DIY shaped how you approached this book?
I think sometimes with the DIY mentality, you’re so used to doing every step yourself that you forget that you can rely on other people’s opinions. It wouldn’t have ever occured to me that I could get someone else to do a book cover for me. I’m so used to making all the artwork by hand and going to the copy shop and trying to get them to cut me any kind of deal on high-res scanning. That’s my background with doing all this stuff, so it was very different. For instance, the publisher, Gramma, who is great, the publisher’s name is William True, all of the artwork for their books is from his art collection. So instead of me having to go from scratch, they were like, ‘Here’s a collection of art you can choose from. Pick all these different fonts and we’ll photograph them against different colors to see what fits.’ It was cool to have a whole team of people working on that, rather than me working in my apartment for two weeks trying to pull together some artwork that makes sense for the piece… because I’m so used to doing all of that myself; scrolling through a thousand font options at 4am.