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Slam Empowers Poets to Be “Unapologetically Themselves”: A Q&A With Poetic Underground Host Samantha Slupski

Mention poetry to an in-the-know Kansas Citian, and Poetic Underground often comes to mind. The writing and performance community, which hosts poetry slams and open mics, has become well-known in Kansas City for both its inclusiveness and energy.

To get involved with Poetic Underground, those interested can visit The Brick (1727 McGee St.) in Kansas City on Wednesdays at 7 p.m. Host Samantha Slupski, who also performs her own poetry and is currently on her second tour, shared the benefits of getting involved in Poetic Underground, her vision for the organization’s future, tips for poetry newcomers, and more with Read Poetry.

Read Poetry: How would you describe Poetic Underground for someone who has never been before?

Samantha Slupski: When you walk into the room, you’re met with voices of kindness, compassion, and excitement. When you walk into the room, you feel like you are already a part of something.

When the night begins, the first poet who steps on stage usually sets the mood for the night with their poem, and then the night continues with people sharing their stories, affirming people’s vulnerabilities, and being unconditionally supportive.

RP: Where did the idea for Poetic Underground come from, and how long has this event series been a part of the Kansas City poetry community?

SS: Poetic Underground started seven or eight years ago. It was founded by a collective of poets of all kinds who started an open mic at Uptown Arts Bar. After those poets scattered to continue their own lives and careers, other people took the reigns. About 3 years ago, I became director of the open mic.

RP: Beyond Poetic Underground, and on a more personal note, how did you begin writing and performing poetry? What inspired you?

SS: I have always been an artistic person, but no other medium allowed the space I needed to be fully human. My childhood was a hard one. I endured a lot of trauma and have a lot of stories inside of me. Once I realized this, I began writing about my experiences. Through writing, I have not only become an advocate for destigmatizing mental health but have also written myself into healing.  

I am inspired by the strength of others. I am inspired by people being unapologetically themselves. I am inspired by bearing witness to other people’s healing. Through bearing witness, I have learned the necessary fact that I am not alone and have been inspired to tell my own story. Writing can often feel like a solitary act. Enduring trauma can often feel like a solitary act. Once I learned that writing can be shared and that all of these things are a part of the human condition, it opened up doors for connection and healing.

RP: What is the goal of Poetic Underground?

SS: The goal of Poetic Underground is and has always been to be an inclusive place where all walks of life can come and share their story, truth, joy, trauma, etc. We want to hear it all and want to be an epicenter of compassion, accountability, and storytelling.

RP: What do you think the performance of poetry adds to the written art form?

SS: I believe performance poetry makes the art form more accessible. In my experience, the written form of poetry is reserved for the “academics.” Performance opens up the art form for all kinds of writers. I also believe performance poetry introduces community to the written word.

On a personal note, without performance poetry, my career would not be where it is today. Because of performance, I have traveled to Australia to read my poems for an audience. I am currently on my second national tour. I have since been published, but performing came first for me. I think it just a testament to how many avenues there are to pursue writing.

RP: As someone who sees many slam poetry performances, what are your tips for beginning poets and performers?

SS: I would suggest going to an open mic before participating in a competitive poetry slam. This way, you can learn what it feels like to be in front of an audience before your poems are given a score. While slam is a wonderful way to challenge yourself and expand your skills, I also believe there is something valuable in sharing your work without assigning a score to it. I would also suggest reading as much poetry as you can. Read the poetry you think you might not like. Read it all.

For me, learning how to perform came from watching YouTube videos on Button Poetry and Write About Now. The videos on these platforms are often shot during national competitions, meaning those poets are the best of the best. Most importantly, find an open mic in your community. If there isn’t one, start your own!

RP: How has being involved in Poetic Underground influenced your own writing? What are some of the most significant lessons it has taught you?

SS: Poetic Underground has been such a great place for me to find my voice. Everyone is always willing to give constructive feedback. Through this, I have become not only a better writer but also a better performer. On a different note, Poetic Underground has taught me what it means to be intersectional. There are so many walks of life that come through our doors. The space has taught me how to be a better advocate and ally.

RP: How do you hope to see Poetic Underground grow, change, or develop in the future?

SS: The most important dream I’ve had is to introduce younger voices into our community. Up until now, our event took place in a 21-and-up venue. We have now moved to an all-ages venue. I am elated to welcome the voices of younger writers. It is my belief that young voices are the most powerful voices, not only because they will be our future leaders, but also because they have so much passion and energy to introduce fresh ideas.

I also hope that our community workshop that happens every second Wednesday of the month continues to grow, and I hope that traveling poets continue to come through Kansas City. Poetic Underground has so much heart. With this kind of love, anything is possible.

 

Samantha Slupski (she/her) is a writer based in Kansas City, Missouri. She serves as the Executive Director of Poetic Underground and Slam Master of Kansas City Poetry Slam. She has been a competitor at Texas Grand Slam, was a 2018 Nationals Team Member, headlined the Melbourne, Australia Spoken Word Poetry Festival in 2018, is a Winter Tangerine Workshop alum, and was an artist-in-residence at CENTER in 2019. When she is not writing, she is working at Imagine That, a non-profit art studio in Kansas City where she teaches and supports artists with developmental disabilities. Her work centers around how a body survives trauma and aims to illuminate stories about mental health. To find out more about Samantha, follow her on Instagram or visit her website.

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