Sam Slupski cooks up unique debut collection ‘Until Tender’

When Sam Slupski started writing as a hobby and a means of processing their emotions in the sixth grade, they never expected that they’d end up where they are now, with 29,000 Instagram followers and a published book. Ever since they released their debut poetry and essay collection on Aug. 29, life has been a bit of a whirlwind for the St. Louis-based writer. 

“This is my first time ever… seeing my book on a shelf and being asked specifically to come places. That is a very new experience. That is very strange to me,” Slupski said in an interview with The Ramapo News. 

“Until Tender” was a five-year-long project for Slupski, originating from their slam poetry days. They said many of the pieces featured in the book started as slam poetry pieces they have used at competitions. 

The collection ends with discussions of them learning to properly take care of themself and building supportive communities, all while centering cooking and food. 

Slam poetry was how Slupski made their entrance into the poetry scene. For years, they attended open mics as a teenager in their hometown of Kansas City, Mo., and they slowly became more involved, even taking on the program director role for the organization with which they started. From there, they realized they could make a career out of competitive poetry. 

Then, the pandemic put a damper on slam poetry performances, causing Slupski to pivot to freelance writing and become more comfortable sharing their work in virtual spaces. They fully credit the slam poetry community for connecting them with their publisher, Game Over Books

“Through meeting different poets from all around the country at these national poetry events was how I met people that were published through Game Over Books… and so it weirdly all connects,” they said. 

Now currently on tour in the Midwest and West Coast this fall, Slupski shared how much more vulnerable these shows feel compared to the slam poetry circuit. 

“Slam poetry for me felt so much like playing a game,” they said. “I’m just not interested in playing the game. I’m just interested in connecting and sharing stories.” 

“Until Tender” is full of Slupski’s stories, littered with small details of how they would pin snack wrappers to their childhood bedroom wall and how their friends call them the patron saint of cooking vegetables. There are several themes running throughout, most important of them being nourishment, inheritance and community.

Slupski weaves these topics together effortlessly, shaping an arc that first focuses on Slupski’s tumultuous childhood and strained parental relationships and then their journeys towards healing. The collection ends with discussions of them learning to properly take care of themself and building supportive communities, all while centering cooking and food. 

These were topics that organically appeared throughout Slupski’s poetry and prose for years until they realized that they could amass their work into a collection. 

“I wouldn’t say that it’s necessarily been something that I started intentionally, but I started to feel these themes and throughlines arise,” they said. “Then I was like, ‘Oh, I’m gonna intentionally write towards this’ because it is something that I am continuously curious about.” 

Above all else, Slupski’s originality stands out in “Until Tender.” They play with the structure and layout of their poems in thoughtful ways that only further emphasize the intended meanings. In “The First Time I Realized I Had a Body,” they use brackets to create various amounts of space in the lines, forcing the reader to pause and ponder what the blankness means. 

Another unique aspect of “Until Tender” is the inclusion of five recipes in the final pages. Slupski said they were a last-minute inclusion suggested by their editor as a way to tie the book together with some of the recipes that Slupski not only loves but was eating while writing these pieces. 

“It just really made sense to me to include the recipes and hope that people feel inspired to nourish themselves,” Slupski said. “I just hope that people take away that nourishing themselves is important and that we can do that in community.” 


5/5 stars

Featured photo courtesy of Jacob Loafman