In the last four years, Giovanni Cerro and his sticker-decked typewriter have composed more than 4,000 on-the-spot poems for anyone with $20 and a need for inspiration.
A self-proclaimed “traveling poet for hire,” Cerro lives in St. Petersburg with his wife, Kayley Robsham, and spends his days trekking to Bay area art events with his typewriter and a desk – a combination that he calls “Gios Typos.”
The grammatical pun is intended, apparently.
Recently, Cerro set up shop at Coastal Creative’s Weird Florida Art Show on August 20 and typed 25 poems for his line of curious word lovers.
A topic and a donation results in a printed poem on the back of a National Geographic map, no matter where he is.
“I just think of myself as a writer, but poetry is my main shtick,” Cerro said. “I’ve always liked the idea of refining something as much as you possibly can in the littlest amount of words.”
The maps are his trademark, but he got the idea of selling poetry while visiting Seattle.
“I saw this woman on the street doing her thing and I thought ‘I have a typewriter, I can write poetry, I should do that,” Cerro. “So I came to St. Petersburg and set it up.”
His first gig was outside Intermezzo Coffee & Cocktails on Central Avenue, and his first street poem was for the owner of Billy’s Corner Barber Shop in St. Petersburg.
“He wanted a poem for his soon-to-be granddaughter…his wife cried when she read it, then she gave me money,” Cerro said. “That was it for me.”
While Cerros’ love affair with words began with his first shot at poetry at age 9, before he became a “poet for hire” he was working as a technician’s assistant for Tesla.
It was “not as gratifying, but a cool job,” he said.
“I would wake up an hour early in the morning to write at the coffee shop before work,” Cerro said. “I was writing a lot about corpses and corporations at that point.”
At 35, he’s since said goodbye to his previous life and dedicates his time to “writing for the people.”
“I always knew deep in my bones that I wanted to write, and affect change in that way,” Cerro said. “A lot of the people that I met that were writers were giving me the spiel about going back to school. So I sat on the street and figured out what I got.”
Do you ever get stumped?
No. I’ve had maybe two people not like my poems, but I guess it just wasn’t their thing. Of course people try to stump you if you’re out on the street with a typewriter, but I run with it.
I like it when people give me like three or four random topics and I have to weave things together. I was at Armature Works one time and this guy gave me the words “KGB, Russia, cannabis.” It was like seven words that I can’t remember now. But that was the gist and I had to make something up from just that. It’s cool, I have to make a story with those loose words. I made up something about assassins.
Do you ever write poems for your wife?
I have. I haven’t recently, but I should. I’ve written so much for her but when you write everyday…. In the beginning when we first met, I used to hide poems all over Black Crow Coffee for her to find. Her love language is words of affirmation so it worked.