An Excerpt from Mouthguard, a Book of Poetry by Sadie Dupuis

Read "Build a Better Do It" from the debut collection, plus an introductory essay by Dupuis herself.

Not that anyone needs a reason to be depressed, but at 23, I could count about a billion. I was mourning the unexpected deaths of several young friends; plus mourning from a shitty first break up, and the consequent dissolution of our shitty first band. I couldn’t get enough work as a writer to cover my Brooklyn rent (LOL that I thought I would), and I had no idea what else to do with myself, other than “not temp-ing anymore.” I wanted to pull a Goodbye-To-All-That and start over elsewhere as a different person (hopefully with a better haircut). On a whim, I applied to MFA programs, landing in a funded one at UMass Amherst—I wrote about the Pixies song in my application, and somehow they still deemed me a good candidate for teaching undergrads.

Western Mass, especially in the fall, feels transformatively beautiful. But you can’t just move to a new state in peak leaf season and expect life to get easy. Only a few weeks in, I got hospitalized with a seemingly undiagnosable mystery illness. Heavy antibiotics had me excusing myself in the middle of teaching to throw up. I spent nights delirious with 103-degree fevers—not exactly the ideal circumstances for a life reboot, especially after leaving my entire support network of family and friends three hours south. I was fatalistic and self-pitying and very, very lonely. And I poured all of it into these poems. (What was left over, I funneled into my new, then-solo music project, Speedy Ortiz; there’s a lot of crossover in subject matter and linguistic tendencies between this book and Speedy’s first few releases.)

Mouthguard was originally called A Scalpel, because I viewed these poems as self-surgery, extracting darkness from myself before it grew, revealing my icky insides to myself. They show my belief in language’s healing power, and a recognition of how self-probing sometimes creates more wounds than it fixes. Some of the earliest poems written for this collection try to present these existential grapples by cloaking them in floral language and musical metrics. Illness and blood hallmark many of these poems, mostly because I had no one to talk to about these things (for that reason, loneliness is a hallmark as well). Some of them are outright Ren Faire.

But as I spent more time working towards health, settling into Massachusetts’ poetry scene, and my new band Speedy Ortiz, the poems got simpler, lighter. Chipping away at all of the ornate language that used to hide my poetic anxieties led to a darkly funny core, something a little less witchy with a few more punchlines. These later poems acknowledge depression but seek ways out of the mire—friendship and animals and family and art and I guess romantic love, too.

I finished writing this book in 2014. It would be impossible for me to write these poems in 2018. At this age, and in this time, I’m more inclined to get heated over shared trauma, to exhaust myself screaming against fascism and bigotry, to feel hope over victories against the aforementioned. I don’t want to write about personal mythology anymore, so generally, I don’t.

But I still gravitate towards READING sad poems like these. Because when each day’s news is dystopian, it’s easy to become numb to yourself (or at least it is for me). Making progress on your own terms, falling down because you’re human, hurting deeply for no reason, and loving deeply, also for no reason—those are the feelings sad poems electrify in me, and they act as a reminder of what it is to be an individual person. Darkness, random happiness, tedium, and, when lucky, sporadic beauty—zooming in on these experiences for a second gives me the motivation to return to the big picture.
—Sadie Dupuis

 

“Build a Better Do It”

 

I

come say i am addicted to your absence here i specifically want to

joint with your lack this morning i witnessed your disappearing

membrane so i mapped where it isn’t

 

II

i see the slow game of a dog’s lifetime and see you say you’ll

understand

2 bits of food and at 3 pm i despise dearness though i say it dearly

 

III

flexing names in my ribbed throat i just snoozed in the liner notes

more info as i wind up flinging more dearness at your grey and

great wind

 

IV

on the cut stone square you tell it’s from a lone noose wagging its tail in

the wind

cut down like any good dog it curls up shellcastlelike in a curl

submissive

 

V

the valley best in the pouring sun choose the pacific but my hands

are here a lot of my road mates only have a hole can we go

i want to be sitting in caves some things you droid people do i do

can we

go c’mon

VI

my head very close i find my head very far like a mistake magnet

and your

fake aura

became volatilizing water in the white morning in the white morning

sun this water corroding and the sun shouts

ripples

 

VII

do you have a pen draw four self-portraits compose seven

to-do lists

sometimes a dog becomes so warm at your feet you sleep through

your several selves

VIII

come say hey when one self ten easy ways to make sure

just had a lot about that

talking about self for another round of summer in this blank

season

 

IX

anything that’s water is liars i want to ask

your water work about our disagreement here in the shadow cut

melodies of a changed line it’s rainy and i’ve already so much to

drive i ask the water whatever i like

X

or are you red onion layer and get your cosmic in a bottle

a comic strip of queues forever and ever wind

jumprope uncertainties

XI

it grows hair so can anyone find me strangle combined

to build a better do it

when the world prints these clear sheets in nature why isn’t more

about

you transparent

XII

investigating the white blinding light of the jukebox warmed in my

interest in the scheme of now

is helter skelter the gods of anything i know

 

XIII

last chance to join a cadence of seasonal chews

today was you talking about today and the skeletons that make it

 

(Photo Credit: Left, Chad Kamenshine)

Talkhouse Contributing Writer Sadie Dupuis is a Massachusetts-based musician, writer and artist. She plays guitar and sings in the rock band Speedy Ortiz. She also wrangles a pit bull named Buster. She’s got a Twitter.