Artist of the Month November 2018 – Spoz
Our November Artist of the Month is poet Spoz. A firm favourite at Authors Abroad, Spoz can work with both primary and secondary school students – inspiring a love and engagement of poetry in every school he visits.
Spoz is an award winning performance poet, singer / songwriter, film maker, playwright and is the poet-in-residence at Birmingham City FC. He has been seen on BBC Television, has been heard on BBC Radio Four, Radio Five Live, Radio West Midlands, Radio Coventry & Warwickshire, Capital Gold and on the toilet. Spoz has performed at the Glastonbury festival, Cheltenham Literature festival, Warwick Words festival, Ledbury Poetry Festival, Broughton Hall Children’s Literature Festival, Oxford literature festival and in front of his mom.
Spoz was ‘crowned’ Birmingham’s eleventh poet laureate in October 2006. He continues to work extensively in schools, lifting the appeal of writing and performing poetry to hitherto, unseen heights.
What a visit from Spoz entails
A visit from Spoz is very varied and tailored to the school depending on the age of the pupils, the number of students, whether the school wants to have a slam poetry competition or presentations or workshops. Fun, laughter and engagement with the written and spoken word are all guaranteed though! Some ideas and typical examples of Spoz in school are below:
KS1 Specific Days
Song Re-writing – Spoz takes well known songs and helps the children re-write the lyrics to the structure of the song. This is currently popular with a “British Values” theme. Some time is spent examining the theme through a “wordburst mind map” and then creating the new song, which can be performed by all, accompanied by Spoz on his guitar. This addresses themes of phonics, rhyme and syntax.
The Poet-tree – Spoz uses rhyme and word association to create a huge collage of a ‘poet – tree’ which is displayed in the hall / class room. Lots of noisy fun with drawing and cutting out.
“I’ve Got Words … ” – Brainstorming lists of rhyming words and turning them into rhyming couplets with a prefix of “I’ve Got Words …”, creating an ever growing list poem for the class.
KS2 / KS 3 Specific Days
Poetry Slam Days – Fast paced (though slowed down a little for KS2) workshop exercises, culminating in an X-Factor style contest at the end of the school day. Large groups of up to 90 students (with suitable space and staff support) can be accommodated, working in teams of 6 to create a piece of work as a team, based on a theme of your choice. Popular themes are “British Values”, “Say No to Racism”, “Identity”, “Voices and Visions”.
Poetry Slam days can be used to create large scale “inter school” projects, where teams from a number of schools are selected to compete against each other. Spoz does this to great effect in Worcestershire and Gloucestershire, where he manages and facilitates around sixteen schools, with Poetry Slam Final events in local theatres.
Here’s what Mrs Laura Sewell, Head of English at Cotswold School, said about Spoz’s Poetry Slam Days …
“Students always LOVE being involved in the poetry slams with Spoz. It can support their progress in so many ways and is engaging and fun at the same time. Students who lack confidence in performing or public speaking are able to develop strategies which help them overcome these obstacles through writing and performing their own work, as well as listening to their peers. The supportive and positive atmosphere, with each of them supporting one another, means that they try new things and are able to move out of their comfort zones. Poetry Slam comps have also helped prepare our students for the academic rigor of their exams as they have had to really think carefully about how they construct their work, not only because it will be performed, but also because they are writing about issues that are relevant to them. Would thoroughly recommend all schools to get involved!”
KS4 Specific Days
Getting ready to take on the poetry components of GCSE’s can be a bit daunting, so Spoz has created half day “Early Engagement” workshops that de-construct “Relationships” and “Conflict” themes into enjoyable and manageable chunks. The students also investigate “unseen” poems through the eyes of their authors and rewrite unseen poems, using existing structures, but with themes the students choose themselves. Up to and around 60 students (in teams of 6) can be accommodated in each half day session (120 in a full day), with each session culminating in the student teams presenting some of their work over the mic.
Feedback on Spoz
“Spoz was AMAZING!!!! Just the right pitch for the children who thoroughly enjoyed every minute. I’d recommend him without hesitation.”
Organiser of Bearder Minister Poetry Festival after Spoz’s participation in the 2018 festival.
“Spoz was great!! Had some amazing feedback from the teachers – which was great stuff. Had quite a good turn out for him after school also =) so all in all a positive experience most definitely!!”
Cleveland Road Primary School.
“The visit from Spoz was fantastic! The students were so engaged and we would love to have him back. Thank you so much.”
Stoke Park School
“Spoz was phenomenal! All students were thoroughly engaged and the day couldn’t have gone any better! Please pass on our thanks!”
President Kennedy School
“I would thoroughly recommend Spoz to bring poetry alive in your school”- Sharon Taylor, Head of English, Birchensale Middle School, Worcestershire.
“At the end, they all said they had a great time and had changed their view on poetry. He was wonderful and the pupils were amazing” – Andrea Clinton, English Dept. Colmers High School, Birmingham.
“Spoz has become an annual fixture in our literacy calendar and a highlight for the children!” – Amanda Doyle, Wolsey House Primary School, Leicester.
“I just wanted to let you know what a resounding success yesterday’s visit was. Spoz was brilliant. It was wonderful how he adapted his sessions for the different year groups and kept them interested and engaged. They really were buzzing and were keen to stay behind after the sessions to talk to him – a true reflection of how much they liked him.
We would definitely recommend him and would like to work together again in the future.
Very best wishes and thank you for suggesting him!”
Joanne Bowles, Librarian Tor Bridge High School
Interview with Spoz
When and why did you join Authors Abroad?
I think it was the tail end of 2017 when we started putting “Spoz’s Shorts … and the Occasional Long One” together. There were a couple of reasons why I joined Authors Abroad really.
Firstly, I knew a few really cool poets who were already “on the books” and I thought “Cor … it’d be really ace to be part of that poetry family … I wonder if they let Brummies in?” Secondly, I’d heard so many great things about Authors Abroad … how they really care about the schools, the school children as well as the poets. It’s just brilliant to be part of such a professional, yet still relaxed and friendly organisation. Huzzah for Authors Abroad! Proper bostin!
Why the name Spoz?
Ah … well that comes from my real name … Giovanni Esposito. It’s the bit between the “E” and the “ito”. Sort of. Ish.
When did you get into poetry?
It was AGES ago … at Junior school really (“Hello!” St. James’ in Rubery!). I remember having to write something to accompany a piece of music one afternoon. I’d forgotten my swimming kit and had to stay in school with three other kids who’d forgotten theirs too. I wrote this weird, juvenile love poem to go with “Venus” by Holst … I was eight years old! It got me into the headmaster’s good books (for a change!) and I haven’t looked back since.
Where do you find your inspiration from?
Absolutely anywhere and everywhere! Sometimes weird ideas just pop into my head and other times I may see something, or someone might say something, that gets the old cogs whizzing in my brain. I find other poets really inspiring too … it’s not plagiarism you know … just “research”!
Do you think everyone has a poem in them?
Absolutely YES! In fact, I’d say everyone has a book of poems in them. It may not be a very thick book, but a book none the less.
Any particular memorable performances from a young person during a slam poetry competition?
There are so many! Where to start? One year eight lad was not enjoying school very much and teachers couldn’t get him to write much or participate much in class. By the end of the day I’d spent with him and seventy other year eights, he’d written two sides of A4 and was up on the mic completely owning his words. The teachers were shocked and one was in tears!
Another time with some year five children, a young girl from one team wrote
“Sorry you were bored with waiting, but I was busy procrastinating!” Kids huh? Gotta love ‘em!
Have you ever forgotten the words to a piece mid-performance?
Many times … once at Glastonbury! Of all the places to forget your lines! Luckily enough, a friend of mine was in the wings and he knew my poem better than I did and he shouted the next line out for me.
Favourite moment from a school visit so far?
Again … there are so many. I think the most recent one was a group of children in Halifax trying to mimic my Brummie accent in one of their poems. It was like an episode from Peaky Blinders. We did laugh!
Do you enjoy visiting overseas schools? Has the accent ever been a problem?
I love visiting overseas schools and my accent hasn’t gotten in the way yet! In fact, some students at a school in South Korea said my accent was really easy to understand. When I told them that Shakespeare would have probably had a Brummie accent, one lad said “No chance, we can’t understand him … you, however … very easy”. I rest my case.
Do you think the power of words written primarily for entertainment can lead to real change?
Definitely. As the old saying goes “… many a true word is spoken in jest”. Was that Chaucer? I’m not sure. My mate Barry from Birmingham said it many times. Words written in an entertaining way are far more memorable, I believe, and if you want to encourage change, entertaining poems or stories are a great way to do just that.
You were recently at the Broughton Hall Children’s Literature Festival – how was it?
It was excellent! The audiences were great and I really enjoyed all the other poets and authors … and illustrators! How do they do that? I can’t draw for toffee … I was amazed! I was also amazed by Broughton Hall itself. What a brilliant setting for the festival! Can’t wait for next year’s! Are we having one next year?
Any future works in the pipeline currently?
I’ve got lots of stuff bubbling away. I’m just finishing off a book and CD for “grown ups” which will be published by Verve Poetry Press in the autumn of 2019, but I’ve got a load of stuff for young people I’m working on with artists, for a graphic novel style publication of some of my poems. Sort of Manga Poetry Comics. I’m really looking forward to getting that out next year too.
What advice would you give to someone who is suffering from writer’s block?
Ahhh … writer’s block … my old friend. I will put my pen down, have a cup of tea, maybe watch some telly or a film or listen to music. Sometimes I pick up my guitar and strum some random stuff. Don’t stress yourself out about it. That’s probably easier said than done, but I often think the writing will come when it wants to … with a bit of a nudge.
Paperback or Kindle?
Which is scariest – a tiger the size of a mouse or a rabbit the size of an elephant?
A rabbit the size of an elephant
Batman or Superman?
Early bird or night owl?
Adventure holiday or relaxation holiday?
If you were Prime Minister for the day what new law would you introduce?
Ban Prime Ministers … oh … and free poetry books for everyone, just before I get banned..
Arrange for Spoz to visit your school
To make an enquiry about Spoz or any of the other authors, poets & illustrators listed on this website, please phone Trevor Wilson on +44 (0) 1535 656015, or email him at firstname.lastname@example.org