The Contains Strong Language Festival (CSL), hosted by the BBC, stands as the UK’s largest event for poetry and performance centred around new written works. This year, from September 21 to 24, the festival will be held in Leeds.
Now entering its seventh year, this festival will present both well-established and renowned poets. Among them are Lemn Sissay OBE, Malika Booker, Hanan Issa, the National Poet of Wales, and Owen Sheers. Alongside these luminaries, the event will also provide a platform for emerging talents hailing from Yorkshire, as well as from various corners of the UK and even beyond its borders.
The festival program encompasses a wide range of themes, spanning from the intricate links between rap and poetry, to the articulation of LGBTQ+ matters by queer poets originating from India and the UK. Attendees will also have the opportunity to indulge in the artistry of international poets hailing from diverse places including New Zealand, South Africa, Belize, Kenya, Sri Lanka, Trinidad, Nigeria, and of course, Leeds and West Yorkshire.
In addition to poetry readings and performances held across multiple venues in Leeds, a variety of BBC radio shows will be recorded and broadcast live from the historic Howard Assembly Room in the city, which serves as the home for Opera North. This includes esteemed programs such as BBC Radio 4’s “Front Row” and “Start the Week,” along with BBC Radio 3’s “The Verb.” A special occurrence will be the “Early Music Show” in collaboration with Yorkshire’s Ex Corde Vocal Ensemble.
This four-day celebration further unites a series of initiatives that have been active throughout the year on BBC Radio Leeds. These include the Radio Club, engaging with local schools in Leeds, and the Poetry Postcards project in collaboration with Khadijah Ibrahiim across Leeds libraries. Marking the centenary of Audio Drama on the BBC, the festival will also showcase “Stories in the Air.” This two-day panel symposium will delve into the creation of this distinctive genre, complemented by a special live performance featuring Toby Jones and Tim Crouch.
The festival is aligned with the BBC’s Across the UK Plan and their commitment to connect audiences with poetry and drama, regardless of their location. By highlighting emerging talents in West Yorkshire and offering development opportunities in the region, the festival aims to better serve and mirror its audiences.
Highlighted offerings from the BBC Contains Strong Language 2023 are as follows:
Lemn Sissay OBE will share excerpts from his latest work, “Let the Light Pour In,” a collection of short poems composed during the dawn of each morning over the past decade.
The Queer Muslim Project and VERVE Poetry Festival continue their global poetry development initiative titled “Language is a Queer Thing.” This program features six talented LGBTQIA+ poets from India and the UK, who will present their works together at CSL.
Nick Ahad will converse with actor Toby Jones on BBC Radio 4’s premier arts program “Front Row,” broadcasting live from CSL on September 21st.
Poet Laureate Simon Armitage will lead a series of events in collaboration with Leeds 2023. These events include “The World in Words,” an International Gathering of Poets that celebrates Leeds’ status as a cosmopolitan city through the lens of its 175+ languages. Also, “Poetry and the Planet” will delve into the role of poetry in confronting an uncertain environmental future.
Rapper and playwright Testament will facilitate a discussion titled “Poetic Justice: 50 Years of Hip Hop.” A panel of artists closely associated with Leeds and West Yorkshire, including UK rapper Jehst, writer and spoken word performer Michelle Scally Clarke, and hip hop luminary Paul Oddball Edmeade, will contemplate Leeds’ distinct hip hop scene and explore the poetic elements of rap, rhyme, and flow.
The BBC Radio Club will provide a platform for students from three Leeds schools to present their own poems crafted during poetry workshops, sharing their creations with family and friends.
To celebrate 100 years of BBC Audio Drama, “Stories in the Air” will feature composer and producer Benbrick, known for the award-winning “Have you heard George’s Podcast?” in collaboration with George the Poet.
Collaborating with CSL, BBC Introducing will showcase the Words First Talent Showcase, honouring the creativity of poets and spoken word artists from across the UK. This event will be hosted by Khadijah Ibrahiim.
The BBC Writers Room will also be present, offering a workshop filled with valuable advice on catching the attention of the BBC as a writer.
Sue Roberts, Head of Culture, Art and Music for BBC Audio North and Director of the Festival, says: “We are thrilled to be bringing Contains Strong Language to Leeds with an inspiring range of performances from local, national and international poets. With newly commissioned work tackling everything from identity to climate change, and activities for families across the city centre we have something for everyone. We welcome audiences to join us as writers from across the globe share the stage with the wealth of talent found in Leeds and West Yorkshire.”
Alison Hindell, Radio 4 Commissioning Editor for Drama and Fiction, says: “This year marks the centenary of audio drama on the BBC, and so I’m delighted that Contains Strong Language is building on the BBC’s history of providing audiences with the very best audio drama and letting listeners into some behind-the-scenes insights and stories. Whether you’re already a keen listener of audio drama or looking to explore this unique medium for the first time, there will be plenty to discover.”