BBC Contains Strong Language has words and more for you this weekend

Poet Joelle Taylor.

For the third year running in Hull, BBC Contains Strong Language presents a packed weekend of the very best poetry, spoken word and performance, much of it broadcast to the nation via BBC Radio 3, Radio 4, 1Xtra and 6Music, and live on Radio Humberside.

This year, Maxine Peake and the BBC Philharmonic are part of a programme of work that also includes the current Poet Laureate Simon Armitage, the former Poet Laureate Carol Ann Duffy, the Scots Makar Jackie Kay, Imtiaz Dharker, poets from Indonesia and Maghreb and other leading lights from the world of poetry as well as the finest rising local stars such as No Larkin About, Jodie Langford, Vicky Foster and Chiedu Oraka.

Over 40 events provide an interesting programme of thought-provoking entertainment as well as opportunities to get to grips with the contemporary poetry word, with events ranging from intimate readings in Hull Truck Theatre’s studio to the big budget production of The Mother at the University of Hull, workshops at Hull Central Library and Hull’s secondary school talent interpreting the work of the Poet Laureate with Zoom!

So, what is BBC Contains Strong Language?

Since the Hull 2017 UK City of Culture year, BBC Contains Strong Language has taken place in Hull on the last weekend of September.

Described as UK’s biggest poetry and performance festival of new writing, Contains Strong Language brings over 40 events to the city over three days, leading poets and world class spoken word artists will take to the stage alongside brand new voices. 

Contains Strong Language welcomes 19 poets – the Hull 19 – along with artists, local, national and international to join in this celebration of poetry and spoken word. 

The special alchemy which makes a great festival combines artistic talent, brand new commissions, world premieres and appreciative audiences. 

Contains Strong Language is the BBC’s national poetry and spoken word festival, with coverage on national and local radio and TV. It is a partnership between the BBC, Wrecking Ball Press, Arts Council England, the British Council and the Makassar International Writers Festival.

When is it?

BBC Contains Strong Language runs from Friday September 27 to Sunday September 29.

Where is it?

BBC Contains Strong Language takes place at venues across the city centre, while the main festival hub is Hull College’s glass-fronted Horncastle Building, home to the Riverside Theatre and close to North Bridge. Hull College will play host to live performances and broadcast events such as Radio 3’s The Verb, Radio 4’s Front Row and 6Music’s The Freakzone and audiences will also get the chance to browse and purchase books at the festival bookstall within the college.

The other festival locations are Hull Truck Theatre, Hull Central Library, Jubilee Church, the University of Hull’s Middleton Hall, the Old School House, BBC Radio Humberside, Scale Lane Bridge (the starting point for Fair Winds and Following Seas) and Sirius Academy West.

What is on?

Events start on the Friday afternoon, with a packed programme running for three days until the Sunday evening featuring poetry, spoken word, workshops, performances, film screenings, live broadcasts and events recorded for future broadcasts, and live music.

Programmes are available at Hull Truck Theatre and at the Hull Visitor Information Point at Paragon Interchange and a full festival overview can be found at

Tickets for free events can be booked on the Hull Truck website at  and for three paid events at

The Broken Orchestra ft Vicky Foster: Fair Winds and Following Seas

Another opportunity to see this well-received work that premiered to great acclaim at this year’s Freedom Festival. Starting at Scale Lane, journey along the River Hull alongside a changing landscape of music and words. Taking about an hour to complete, you will be guided with original music written by The Broken Orchestra and poetry from Vicky Foster. Journeys begin at 11am on the Saturday and Sunday.

Individual Poetry Readings

Across the Saturday and Sunday, Hull Truck Theatre’s Studio plays host to an exciting programme of performances and readings from poets at the very top of their game. These include Testament, Chiedu Oraka, Joelle Taylor, Zena Edwards, Imtiaz Dharker, Clare Pollard, William Letford, Jackie Kay and Indonesians Mario F Lawi and Jamil Massa.

Words First

Words First has seen BBC Radio 1Xtra, BBC Asian Network and BBC Contains Strong Language come together to discover the best emerging spoken word artists in the UK. 1Xtra and Asian Network are two of the most important platforms for young voices, and Words First has a strong record in discovering new lyrical talent. 

After a UK-wide search, the finalists come together on the Friday night to perform new work created during the scheme. Words First ambassador, writer and poet JudeYawson who co-wrote Stormzy’s Rise Up: The #Merky Story So Far has closely mentored the six talented finalists, whose work will also be published in a book available at the festival.

JoinedUp Dance – Trio

Back for the third year running, JoinedUp Dance Company will once again produce rich visual experiences as part of the festival with Trio, using contemporary dance, projection, text and costume to provide an immersive experience for the audience witnessing interpretations of the work of Imtiaz Dharker, Simon Armitage and Scots Makar Jackie Kay. All three poets will also read their work.

Live Broadcasts

The might of the BBC radio network rolls into Hull every Contains Strong Language and, as well as their broadcast vans and hefty cables, look and listen out for, and attend, live broadcasts and recordings of The Verb, Front Row, Beyond Belief, Free Thinking and the Stuart Maconie fronted Freakzone.

Camille O’Sullivan

Camille O’Sullivan who enjoys a formidable international reputation for her intensely dramatic interpretations, performs the songs of Brel, Cave, Waits, Bowie and others. She will 

transform each song she performs into an intense, emotional and theatrical experience, drawing the audience in as she does.

Rallying Cry

A critically acclaimed medley of compelling spoken word performances, Rallying Cry offers the stage to some of the country’s most outspoken artists to address the state of the nation and imagine a better tomorrow. In this call-to-action, Joelle Taylor, Hull’s own Chiedu Oraka, Zena Edwards and Francesca Beard perform newly commissioned work on the theme of protest.

Translation Workshops

Contains Strong Language has a strong presence of Indonesian and Maghrebian poets thanks to British Council led projects. Two events focus on the translation of work, although no second languages are necessary to participate. This is an opportunity to understand and delve deeply into other cultures through literature and poetry, as well as picking up practical insights into translating work.

Simon Armitage – Sandettie Light Vessel Automatic

The Poet Laureate reads from his latest collection Sandettie Light Vessel Automatic which brings together many of his commissioned and topical poems written over the last twenty five years. Accompanied by a visual presentation, Armitage will touch on the expectations and excitements of delivering poetry in public.


A multi- media performance by students from Sirius Academy West, Ganton School and the Hull Music Service who are following in the footsteps of Shanghai’s Wellington College International. Fusing words by Simon Armitage on an intergalactic theme in this year of celebration of the moon landings, with music by award-winning composer and musician John Harle and a light show by Hull-born architect Richard Scott.

East Coast Fever

A rare chance to see this short film by Dave Lee about Hull’s fourth best poet, Dean Wilson, and his sublime poetry. As Dave says, “It’s a little portrait of Dean, it’s like a little Mike Leigh short. He’ll make you laugh,cry, move you. And by the end of the night he’ll leave you on the floor.” The first people through the door will get a free, equally rare button badge of the poet.

The Mother

Already sold out, Mark Ravenhill’s version of Bertolt Brecht’s The Mother sees award-winning actress Maxine Peake perform the iconic role of Pelagea Vlassova, a woman whose radical action to protect her son from imprisonment transforms her into the figurehead for a revolutionary movement. Also featuring the BBC Philharmonic Orchestra, The Mother will be recorded live at Middleton Hall for broadcast on Radio 3.

[Dave Windass – Wrecking Ball Press]