Sadie Dupuis began college pursuing a math degree at Massachusetts Institute of Technology, transferred to Barnard to study creative writing, went on to complete an MFA for poetry at the University of Massachusetts at Amherst, and, before finishing her thesis in 2014, was touring full-time as the frontwoman of indie rock act Speedy Ortiz—a role she’s held onto ever since, with the exception of her time performing under the solo moniker Sad13 (a title Dupuis came up with when thinking of possible DJ names).
Put lightly, she’s hasn’t been afraid to take her life in a few different directions.
But despite releasing an album earlier this year with Speedy Ortiz, “Twerp Verse,” Dupuis has found the time to return to poetry, releasing a revised version of her three-year MFA thesis titled “Mouthguard.” She also found time to return to Barnard last Wednesday, giving a poetry reading in Barnard’s Event Oval followed by a talk with her creative writing professor and mentor, Saskia Hamilton.
The event began with Dupuis reading several poems from “Mouthguard.” Her work consistently exhibited a sort of free-associative thinking, with lines like, “It’s selfish to self-immolate in the middle of a funeral,” “Speak a language like marbles on the tongue,” and titles such as, “Man it’s hard to put dogs in machines.” Her own selected work even referenced this sort of thinking, with the recited lines, "My friends could always say something is the same as some other thing the original thing is actually unlike / Like real love is plexiglass and mattress or conversation—knife on a multitool."
This style added an element of unpredictability to her poems, kept in check by the aesthetic quality and careful introspectiveness of Dupuis’ work. This ensured that her free-association of words had a disorienting but certainly not frustrating effect. Later on in her talk with Hamilton, Dupuis mentioned the influence of singer Stephen Malkmus, a lyricist known for the creative unpredictability of his writing, both in her music and writing.
Dupuis also touched on the differences between writing in the mediums of music and poetry, saying that in writing song lyrics, the music comes first, with the words fitting in “kind of like a crossword.”
“In music, I don’t have to worry about feeling ultra exposed,” Dupuis said, highlighting another difference in mediums.
As she pointed out half-jokingly, if there’s a line that might be a little embarrassing, she could always ask sound engineers to make the guitar a bit louder in the mix. With poetry, though, there are only words on the page.
This distinction became especially interesting when Dupuis ended the event with a rare solo performance. Usually accompanied by a full band, she stood in front of the crowd with nothing other than a pale pink electric Rickenbacker guitar—“Sad13” printed in gold on the headstock—a microphone, and her pedal board.
Hearing Speedy Ortiz songs like “Lucky 88” stripped down to this personal level, with Dupuis’ voice and guitar front and center, amplified to bounce off and into the walls of the Event Oval, it didn’t feel like Dupuis’ words were hiding behind anything. On the contrary, they were almost more exposed and personal than those of her poetry reading, which she had carefully curated over three years and sharpened through numerous revisions.
Her reading and musical performance both offered an intimate look into the mind of the artist, but while the poetry was prepared under the expectation of the scrutiny that comes with the medium, which certainly came out in the beauty and cleverness of Dupuis’ lines, there was something rawer about seeing a singer perform songs without her band—in some cases, as Dupuis admitted, for the first time—like watching a tightrope walker without a net.