Skip to content

BBC Contains Strong Language Festival

Highlights from the BBC Contains Strong Language Festival

The UK’s Biggest Poetry Festival Devoted to New Work

Contains Strong Language was created as the UK’s biggest poetry festival devoted to new work.

As part of the UK City of Culture celebrations, it featured 17 new commissions spanning grime, spoken word and page poetry and was committed to representing the diversity of poetry performance in the UK. 

Kate Tempest was a festival highlight for me

The festival took place over four days from National Poetry Day and presented over 50 events across eight venues – and was broadcast on BBC TV and Radio.

Contains Strong Language included some of the world’s most renowned artists including Kate Tempest, John Cooper Clarke and the Unthanks.

Joining them on the bill were the BBC Philharmonic and Imtiaz Dharker, a Pakistan-born British poet who has won the Queen’s Gold Medal for Poetry.

BBC Contains Strong Language Festival branding

There were also special performances and talks from Ian McMillan, Jo Whiley, Kate Fox, Jeremy Irons, Tracey Thorn, Ben Watt and many more.

Surrounding the festival was an extensive collection of TV and radio commissions , including new documentaries, dramas and live performances on BBC Two & BBC Four.

The famous Poetry Take-Away also appeared at the Festival

Diversity at the Heart

At the heart of the festival was The Hull 17 – an ensemble of the country’s most interesting and diverse artists – commissioned to create new work in the city throughout the duration of the festival. The full line-up of poets who form The Hull 17 and who were commissioned to produce new work was:

Bohdan Piasecki, Dean Wilson, Fred Voss, Hannah Silva, Harry Giles, Helen Mort, Imtiaz Dharker, Isaiah Hull, Jacob Polley, Joe Hakim, Joelle Taylor, Kate Fox, Kate Tempest, Louise Wallwein, Michael, Symmons Roberts, Vicky Foster & Zena Edwards.

The Shop of Poems. Photo: Liam Rich

International Projects

Partners for the festival included BBC Learning, Wrecking Ball Press, Humber Mouth Literature Festival and also the British Council who supported international projects showcased at Contains Strong Language, for example…

We collaborated with the Polish Book Institute to support the presence of two Polish poets at Contains Strong Language.

Weronika Lewandowska and Wojciech Cichońin travelled to Hull to perform their poetry alongside Bohdan Piasecki at the festival. Bohdan was the founder of Poland’s first poetry slam and performed new work inspired by Hull’s Polish community in a live spoken word show. Leading up to the Contains Strong Language Festival there was a series of events including pop-up poetry, writing and storytelling, that gave the Polish community in Hull the opportunity to get involved. This included Poetry on the Streets whereby Bohdan set-up his stall at various locations across the city to chat to passers-by.

The poets also all featured on BBC radio and delivered workshops with the Polish community as part of the City of Culture’s Shop of Poems / Hull Gada project (see link below).

The Shop of Poems was set inside a local shopping centre. Photo: Liam Rich
The inimitable poet John Cooper Clarke