Ledbury Poetry Competition 2023 WINNERS ANNOUNCED

PRESS RELEASE 16 November 2023


Ledbury Poetry is thrilled to announce this year’s Poetry Competition winners, runners up and highly commended poets. Philip Gross, the judge for 2023, shares his comments below.

First Place: Anna Woodford

Anna Woodford is the author of five poetry books and pamphlets: Changing Room (Salt, 2018), Birdhouse (Salt, 2010), Party Piece (Smith Doorstop, 2009), Trailer (Five Leaves, 2008) and The Higgins’ Honeymoon (2003). She has won an Authors’ Foundation award, an Eric Gregory award, a PBS recommendation, an Arvon/Jerwood apprenticeship, two Northern Writers’ awards and The Wigtown Prize. Her poems based on research into well-being and ‘getting out’ were displayed on buses in Newcastle and York. She has completed writing residencies at Hawthornden Castle and the Blue Mountain Center (New York). She was Leverhulme artist in residence at Durham Law School and has been artist in residence at Newcastle Fire Service and Alnwick Garden. She is a Royal Literary Fund Fellow, previously at the School of English at Newcastle University, and currently at the School of Nursing, Midwifery and Health at Northumbria University.

Second Place: J.J. Starr-McClain

J.J. Starr-McClain’s work can be found in The Common, Four Way Review, Juked, The Journal, and elsewhere. She studied at the New York University Creative Writing program, where she was a (civilian) Veterans Writing Workshop Fellow. She has received generous support from Wesleyan University and the Community of Writers. She is a 2023–24 fellow at the Fine Arts Work Center in Provincetown, Massachusetts.

Third Place: Mark Fiddes

Mark’s third collection Other Saints Are Available (Live Canon 2022) explores modern idolatry, from celebrity culture to the digital cacophony in which we drown. This year, his work has appeared in Oxford Poetry, The Brixton Review of Books, Stand Magazine, The North, The Moth, Magma and The Irish Times. A past winner of the Oxford Brookes University Prize and the Ruskin Prize, he has just been awarded the Westival International Prize in Ireland. Having toiled for decades as a journalist in Washington, D.C. and global creative director in London, he now lives and works in Brexile between the Middle East and the Pyrenees.

There are runners-up and highly commended poems and these can be found, along with the winning poems, online here: Ledbury Poetry Competition 2023 – Ledbury Poetry


The judge this year is Philip Gross. Philip has published 27 collections, for adults and for young people, over 40 years of publication. He won the T.S. Eliot Prize in 2009, a Cholmondeley Award in 2017, and is a keen collaborator, e.g. with Lesley Saunders on A Part of the Main (Mulfran, 2018), with scientists on the young people’s collection Dark Sky Park (Otter-Barry, 2018) and with artist Valerie Coffin Price and Welsh-language poet Cyril Jones on Troeon/Turnings (Seren, 2021). His latest, The Thirteenth Angel (Bloodaxe, 2022), a PBS Recommendation, was shortlisted for the T.S. Eliot Prize.


First Place: Anna Woodford

Delirium (Great Balls of Fire)

As brave, as bravura, a performance as the ill-advised, little-known acts it celebrates, this is both a lament and a defiant affirmation of an individual’s life. Slipping among time zones with the cool skill that it takes to stage apparent disorientation, it’s an unsentimental elegy and eulogy, defying grief, that’s possessed by its subject’s own energy, while wrangling with the question: how to locate the core of a loved-one’s personality even when age, loss of memory and the slog of routine caring make it hard to find.

Second Place: J.J. Starr-McClain

American Pastoral   

With its confident, enquiring scope and its grounding in accurately noted detail, this is an impressive example of how poetry can deeply think as well as feel, pursuing a problem that is both subtle and urgent, personal and political – how to answer the question “where am I from?”  Without rhetoric or easy moral gestures, it reaches a moving pitch of honesty, questioning the self through the eyes of the landscape, rather than vice versa, at the point where the history of human migrations meets ecology.

Third Place: Mark Fiddes

The Bees of Arabia 

A precisely pitched and poised vignette, with a sharp eyed, disillusioned, deadpan humour, this achieves what poetry sometimes, rarely, can do: a simple, unforgettable image, small in itself, on which balances so much anxiety, and anxious hope, both for the region and the world. This selection was made before the current conflagration in the Middle East; recent events only point up the accuracy of its concerns, and the urgency of the hope, a modest one, that somehow this small thing ‘might be enough’.


The first prize for the competition is £1,000 cash and, in our on-going partnership with Arvon, a week’s poetry course.

Mary Morris, Artistic Director at Arvon, says “Ledbury Poetry has an impressive track record when it comes to recognising fresh talent, and so Arvon is delighted to be working in partnership with this competition to help develop and nurture that talent, whether in one of our writing houses or online through Arvon at Home.”


Arvon is the UK’s leading creative writing charity with a wide range of residential and online writing courses. The winner will have one calendar year from the prize being announced to claim either a residential or online week of their choice. The competition is international, open to poets writing in the English language.

To speak to any of the winners and for further information please contact Becky.shaw@ledburypoetry.org.uk

Notes to Editors

Inclusive, International, Inspirational

Ledbury Poetry creates live and online programmes throughout the year culminating in Ledbury Poetry Festival each July. Now in its 28th year, it is the largest and most international celebration of poetry and spoken word in Britain making Ledbury the home of poetry in the UK.

Ledbury Poetry Festival runs 28th June – 7th July 2024.

Ledbury Poetry has moved to The Barrett Browning Institute in Ledbury. Our new home is a hive of activity and welcomes visitors to workshops and events live in Ledbury and online throughout the year. Ledbury Poetry House also hosts the Box Office and a Bookshop.

Ledbury Poetry Critics launched its mentorship programme, recruiting 12 critics of colour, in 2017, and has been responsible for increasing the visibility of poets and critics of colour. There are now over 35 critics within the programme founded by Sandeep Parmar and Sarah Howe with support from Ledbury Poetry. Ledbury Poetry Critics introduce and chair events at Ledbury Poetry Festival and the first Guest Curator has been appointed in 2023 from this programme: Stephanie Sy-Quia.

Full information on the programme can be found here: www.ledburypoetry.org.uk/home/ledbury-poetry-critics

Ledbury Poetry Player ensures that events are available for everyone around the world to enjoy.

Ledbury Poetry Competition runs annually. The Judge for 2023 is Philip Gross, Prizes include £1,000 and a week’s poetry course with our partner, Arvon. www.ledburypoetry.org.uk/competition

Ledbury Poetry Salons, Workshops, and Masterclasses are delivered live and online throughout the year. Look for programmes on our What’s On page www.ledburypoetry.org.uk

Ledbury Poetry Learning projects include work in schools, a monthly young writers group, the ‘Crucial Creators’ and learning opportunities for 16-25 year olds, as well as volunteering training and opportunities for all ages – all of which develop and enhance Ledbury as the Town of Poetry.

Ledbury Poetry is a charity. Registration no. Charity No 1059465

For all information and to explore our programmes please visit: www.ledburypoetry.org.uk

Sign up to our mailing list for all the latest news from Ledbury Poetry sent directly to you every month: www.ledburypoetry.org.uk

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For further information please contact Becky Shaw: becky.shaw@ledburypoetry.org.uk 


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