BBC unveils UK's biggest poetry festival

BBC unveils UK's biggest poetry festival

This year's National Poetry Day will see the launch of the UK's biggest poetry festival dedicated to new work, in conjunction with the BBC.

Following on from the success of the genre last year, which saw more poetry books sold than ever before, this new festival, called Contains Strong Language, will take place across four days beginning on National Poetry Day on 28th September.

Hosted in the UK's City of Culture, Hull, the festival intends to celebrate “the power of poetry” in all its forms, encompassing old and new work, on-the-page verse and performance along with digital, documentary and drama works.

For it, an ensemble of 17 artists including Jacob Polley and Harry Giles have been commissioned to create new work. Called "The Hull 17" the writers will be based in the city to pen new commissions spanning grime, spoken word and page poetry, in a bid to support the festival's committment to "representing the diversity of poetry performance in the UK”.  Other writers include Imtiaz Dharker, Kate Fox, Harry Giles, Helen Mort, Bohdan Piasecki, Louise Wallwein, Fred Voss and Dean Wilson.

New documentaries and live performances will be shown on BBC Two and BBC Four, and the corporation's radio stations will feature live broadcasts from Jo Whiley, Cerys Matthews, John Wilson, Ian McMillan, and Mim Shaikh, among others.

Meanwhile, the BBC website will showcase exclusive features, previews, comprehensive schedules and catch-up for all programmes. Poet in Residence for the season, Harry Giles, will act as a personal guide throughout the festival, giving his “unique take” on the themes and highlights.

Among the features to be broadcast on the BBC is a film by poet Michael Symmons Roberts. "Men Who Sleep in Cars" follows three men in Manchester during one night in September. Written entirely in verse, the film tells the "poignant" stories of Marley, Antonio and McCulloch, and features actress Maxine Peake (pictured) playing the role of Sarah, who is leaving the city. BBC Two is to host a Saturday night special of performance highlights from The Hull 17, as well as live music from special guests, as Radio 1Xtra brings its "renowned" Words First poets to Hull.

Another BBC Two film will explore the relevance of W H Auden's work in the 21st Century. "In A New Age Of Anxiety" probes the "peculiar hold 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 all live. Tickets are available to book for the events from the festival's website.

Jonty Claypole, director of arts, BBC, 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 - page poets, performance poets, and artists of all backgrounds experimenting and creating with the spoken word. 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.”

The BBC is also to celebrate the nation's "great" local words with 12 specially-commissioned poems, this National Poetry Day.

Last year was a record for the poetry sector, with 1.077 million books sold for £9.88m. So far, in 2017 the sector is up 13.9% to £4.5m, with 501,177 books sold. The growth is mostly being driven by the success of Instapoet Rupi Kaur’s Milk and Honey which has sold 42,921 books in the last six months, which makes up 7.7% of the entire sub-category.