Published author and former Poet Laureate, Giovanni ‘Spoz’ Esposito talks up spoken word, inspires youngsters with his brimming positivity and dismisses the poetry snobs
When MG Rover ‘went bump’, we would wager not many former workers went into poetry. It’s quite the leap, but it’s just what Giovanni Esposito also known as Spoz did. He says: “I just started writing for fun. I was into punk and started writing in that ilk.”
Spoz then met someone at an event at Mac who was working in schools delivering workshops to kids. Having never considered that as a legitimate bill-paying job, Spoz thought ‘why not?’. With nothing to lose he began his surprising new career. Four books and thousands of inspired school kids later and here we are.
Despite being published by Verve Poetry Press, Spoz still prefers live events to books. He says: “At a live event you might hear something that really rings your bell – like live music really. You might not know what it is about that piece, but you just know.” He adds: “Academia gets in the way. A lot of people are poetry snobs and don’t like spoken word – they put it down, but you can’t beat it for the energy and authenticity when the poet reads to you.”
Spoz had been playing in bands for years before he started penning poetry and was used to performing, so open mic poetry events are his happy place. Starting out with workshops for young children aged 11 years, Spoz’s style has always been super positive as he thinks criticism just squashes a child’s spirit.
Moving up the year groups, Spoz isn’t a fan of the GCSE poetry curriculum either. From the beginning of year 10, kids have to memorise and learn how to analyse 15-ish poems which they may or may not be tested on at the end of year 11. When Spoz works with year 10 he makes it clear to teachers that that is not what he’ll be doing in his workshops. He says: “I get them to write and perform not learn someone else’s poems by heart. It’s much more engaging.”
Spoz recently worked with Midlands Air Ambulance Charity on a book to celebrate its 30th anniversary. It is essentially a set of poems and stories from people who have been touched by the charity, including people whose lives have been saved, volunteers, paramedics and more. Along with colleague Holly Hunter at not-for-profit organisation, the Word Association, Spoz began chatting to people unearthing some incredible stories compiled in the book titled On A Mission: 30 Years of Rapid Response.
Spoz says: “Poetry and writing generally is a lovely way of expressing oneself and can be a healthy release of emotion. Reading poems, stories and letters from people affected or involved with the charity, has been humbling yet uplifting.”
Spoz says Birmingham is a huge hub of spoken word activity – better than London. Pre-Covid there were massive nights every day of the week. At the Dark Horse in Moseley for example you’d have to turn up early if you wanted a seat. The Bristol Pear’s Writers Block would regularly attract 60 to 70 people. Beatfreeks put on poetry jam events at various venues which are always lively. The Arts Council commissioned a research agency to find out where in the UK was most active and it found that 60 per cent of all youth poetry slam activity happens in the Midlands. Good vibes. Altruistic. Nice vibe.
Next month, as part of the Verve Festival of Poetry and Spoken Word at the Hippodrome, Spoz is hosting the Birmingham School Slam Final. Twelve local primary schools are bringing a team of their best budding poets to deliver a set of their work to three Young Poet Laureates and regional poetry champions, Poetry On Loan. It’s right up Spoz’s street and he can’t wait.