BBC celebrates poetry and spoken word with new festival in Hull

Launching on September 28 2017 (National Poetry Day), Contains Strong Language will give a nod to the past while embracing the future. This brand new festival will celebrate new and existing work, and with more than 50 events across eight venues in Hull, the festival promises to be the biggest poetry festival dedicated to new work in the UK.

Bringing wordsmiths from different backgrounds together – from page poets to spoken word artists, and lyricists to performance artists – into new forms of collaboration, it will also encourage emerging talent, giving them a platform to share their work alongside first class local, national and international poets.

Poetry lovers and spoken word enthusiasts can get their hands on tickets to this debut festival to see some of the world’s most renowned artists including Kate TempestJohn Cooper Clarke and The Unthanks.

Alongside the live events in Hull, the BBC will be broadcasting a special season of programmes across BBC TV, radio and online to celebrate the festival. The festival will feature new documentaries and live performance across BBC Two, BBC Four and BBC Digital. In addition, six of the BBC’s national radio stations – 1xtra, 2,3,4,5 live and 6music – as well as BBC Radio Humberside, will be taking audiences to the heart of the festival, with live broadcasts from Jo Wiley, Cerys Matthews, John Wilson, Ian McMillan, Mim Shaikh and more.

On BBC Two a special thirty-minute programme Stand Up Poets will capture performance highlights from Isaiah Hull, Asma Elbadawi, Amina Jama, Solomon O.B, Reuben Fields and Liam McCormick. Plus there’ll be live music from special guests, as BBC 1Xtra bring their renowned Words First poets to Hull for the festival.

A New Age of Anxiety will explore the relevance of WH Auden’s work in the 21st century, in a film that probes the peculiar hold that this angry young man of the 1930s still has on our modern psyches, and what this can tell us about the political climate in which we live today.

BBC Four will celebrate the 50th anniversary of The Mersey Sound, one of the best-selling poetry anthologies of all time, in The Mersey Beats. BBC Four will also explore the thousands of photographs that Philip Larkin took throughout his lifetime in Through the Lens of Larkin. Poet and academic John Wedgewood Clarke examines some of Larkin’s previously unseen pictures, tracking the poet’s relationship with Hull, his family and his lovers.

Also on BBC Four, Maxine Peake stars in Men Who Sleep in Cars, a film in verse by Michael Symmons Roberts which follows three men over one September night in Manchester. Written entirely in verse, the film follows the stories of Marley, Antonio and McCulloch who sleep on the streets of Manchester in their vehicles. Child in Mind, meanwhile, combines the poetry of Simon Armitage with documentary footage of British mothers who have had their children taken into care. The women featured tell their story in their own words and are all part of a new scheme, called Pause, which aims to break the cycle of repeat care removals. Child in Mind paints an emotionally charged portrait of the lives of these women, many of whom have suffered abuse and neglect themselves.

Throughout the four days of the festival, Radio 3’s Between the Ears and The Verb, Radio 4, BBC Four BBC Digital and BBC Local Radio will be broadcasting new work from The Hull ’17 – the community of 17 poets at the heart of the festival. Jacob Polley, Louise Wallwein, Michael Symmons Roberts, Dean Wilson, Vicky Foster, Hannah Silva, Helen Mort, Joelle Taylor, Zena Edwards, Isaiah Hull and the BBC’s Poet in Residence for the season, Harry Giles, will all feature on the BBC.

BBC Radio 3 Breakfast show will launch Contains Strong Language will a live broadcast from Hull on 28 September. A discussion of To His Coy Mistress with a panel including Michael Symmons Roberts and Helen Mort will follow at lunchtime on Free Thinking, broadcast from BBC Humberside.

BBC Radio 1Xtra’s Word First finalist Isaiah Hull will perform new work on Radio 2’s Jo Whiley show and weave the words of a nation into a specially commissioned poem on BBC Radio Humberside for National Poetry Day. BBC Radio 3 will showcase a new performance from the BBC Philharmonic Orchestra of Anthony Burgess’ A Clockwork Orange, live from Hull University’s Middleton Hall on 30 September.

The BBC is also inviting schools from Hull and the surrounding areas to join a GCSE poetry reading and discussion session. Poets on the current syllabus, including Simon Armitage, Imtiaz Dharker and Daljit Nagra, offer young people the chance to gain first-hand knowledge about their poems. The session will be chaired by Chief Examiner, Tony Childs.

Jonty Claypole the Director of BBC Arts said: “Poetry has never been more vital, nor diverse, with traditional boundaries and forms of distribution breaking down. Contains Strong Language is a site-specific and broadcast festival that captures modern poetry in all its variety. With fantastic new documentaries on BBC Two and BBC Four, live spoken-word performances on primetime Saturday night on BBC Two, Radio 3, and five other BBC Radio networks broadcasting programmes live from the heart of the Contains Strong Language festival in Hull, it really does have something for everyone.”


Tickets are now on sale for five Contains Strong Language performances: Kate Tempest, John Cooper Clarke, Imtiaz Dharker and JoinedUp Dance Company, The Unthanks and the BBC Philharmonic Orchestra.

In addition four events for Contains Strong Language’s sister festival, the Humber Mouth Literature Festival, are also on sale: Melvyn Bragg, Sarah Pascoe, Sally Gardner and Will Self.