Artist Feature: Sam Slupski
I’m lounging on a couch that belongs to Sam Slupski, a local poet. We’re chatting before Soup Night, which is the occasional get-together she holds. A group of local poets and friends come together to enjoy soup that Sam makes, but also to decompress. Her apartment is small but the interior is comforting and decorated with intention. She’s lounging on her mid-century style sofa, which is positioned beautifully in the light pouring in from her large windows. A garden’s worth of houseplants line the windowsill and adorn the credenza below it. Amongst all this life, various skulls and a taxidermied deer give a subtle reminder of our mortality. This space aptly reflects the poet’s personality.
Sam is a born-and-raised Midwestern girl. Nothing too exciting ever happened, and she didn’t expect it to; she thought herself totally average. She neither struggled nor exceeded in school. She wasn’t disliked, but wasn’t popular. And she had no grandeur dreams of becoming a successful artist. When she began writing in Middle School, it was the type of poetry that most young teens create: heartfelt, angsty, the lack of structure in her writing reflected the lack of control over her emotions.
It was around this time that difficulties in her childhood materialized themselves and physically affected her. Because of this, Sam found herself in the hospital. There, she was introduced to art therapy as a healthy coping mechanism, and she started to explore different forms of expression. She believed she was going to be a visual artist, but found poetry to be the best outlet for herself. Now she says, “I don’t feel like there’s any way I can depict what I’m feeling without just saying it [with poetry].”
Sam’s introduction to slam poetry happened on Tumblr, where she was inspired by poets from all over. Slam poetry is written to be performed, and is typically very passionate. Previously, Slupski only wrote poetry for herself, and certainly never expected to perform it. Despite using poetry as an emotional outlet to stabilize her mental health, from the ages of 17 to 21, Sam didn’t write at all. “I shut down. I didn’t want to go to therapy or take medication. I didn’t write.”
After she made progress with her health and began writing again, two events sparked Sam’s decision to start performing. First, a close friend read her work and urged, “You need to show this.” Sam never really shared her poetry with anyone, so this was the first time she received praise for showing vulnerability. The second event was seeing Andrea Gibson, a person she had avidly followed on Tumblr, perform in person. As Slupski watched Andrea, she felt completely known by this stranger. Andrea’s slam poetry touched upon the most intimate parts of Slupski’s life: being a woman, coping with mental illness, and dealing with trauma. Sam sobbed in the front row; she was healing.
Sam was inspired by the bravery it took to publicly open up about typically taboo subjects and wanted to share the comfort and healing she experienced with others who are struggling. “The passion is contagious. It’s a labor of love, word vomiting sadness.” Sam began to share her poetry at Arts Bar, the Kansas City local hotspot and safe space for artists of all kinds.Three years later, she now runs the monthly poetry slam there, with a packed open night and consistently has touring poets visit.
Up until this year, Sam admits that she had a hard time being honest with her work, “I was writing through gritted teeth.” She wrote what she thought was good poetry or what other people wanted to hear. She has a book out currently, but says that she doesn’t recognize the person that wrote it; she’s grown since then and now writes without fear of rejection or shame.
“As I’ve lived, I’ve learned things about what it is to be a woman that I never realized, until I started writing about my period.” A menstrual period was previously a topic of revulsion for Sam, but as she wrote about it she became more accepting of it, and consequently, herself. It was then that she started to write what she knew she needed to write for herself. This realization sparked a total overhaul of Sam’s friends, job, house, and poetry. “I’ve never had drive, but I found it in the poetry community; it gave me life again. That translated into other areas of my life. It kind of sustained my life.”
This new boost of confidence led Sam to an incredible opportunity to headline at the Melbourne Slam Poetry Festival in Australia. “I’m so grateful that poetry could take me somewhere. I never thought I wouldn’t be a small Midwestern girl.” While there, she experienced an incredible amount of kindness that she calls “radiant.” Now her poetry community has grown beyond Kansas City to an international level.
Today Sam believes her main work is for the community. She wants to introduce poetry as a tool to process, cope, and heal both individuals and the community. “I’m here so someone can hear my poetry and feel not so alone.”
She recently became a studio resident in The Hobbs in Kansas City’s West Bottoms, and is currently competing in the National Poetry Slam in Chicago. She is also working on a second book and planning another tour, so look out for dates starting in 2019.