Ledbury Poetry Competition 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.

The judge Philip Gross says of Delirium (Great Balls of Fire) by Anna Woodford

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.

Read Delirium (Great Balls of Fire)

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.

The judge Philip Gross says of American Pastoral  by J.J. Starr-McClain

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.

Read American Pastoral

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.

The judge Philip Gross says of The Bees of Arabia by Mark Fiddes

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’.

Read The Bees of Arabia

RUNNERS-UP (alphabetical by title)

The judge Philip Gross says of Clown Psalm by Elisabeth Murawski

Deftly teetering between pathos and belly laugher is a standard clown skill; add the slow revelation of a spiritual dimension – the word psalm is not a joke – and you get a sense of the skill in this unfashionable but surprisingly graceful, gracefully surprising turn.

Read Crown Psalm

The judge Philip Gross says of Laura as Goblin by Heather Gluck

If you don’t know Christina Rossetti’s Goblin Market, this compelling prose poem alone would make it worth the Googling. An unmistakeable bite of real memory releases the suppressed anarchic and erotic charge of that source, blowing apart any last illusions about childhood innocence.

Read Laura as Goblin

The judge Philip Gross says of LotsofPeopleinaRoom by Anna Woodford who also won the competition

A plucky, poignant monologue that sketches a character some of us will recognise, maybe sometimes in ourselves. A subtle desperation is unfolded gradually, through sympathetic but unsparing observation of the small change of ordinary lives and their need for connection.

Read LotsofPeopleinaRoom

The judge Philip Gross says of Plot with Eve by Adedayo Agarau

The ghost of a novel, glancingly evoked, hovers behind this unusually nuanced, unjudgmental mapping of a young person’s evolution through spiritual/emotional/sexual awakenings… including the uneasy way these realms intersect. Almost incidentally, an old story is refreshed.

Read Plot with Eve

The judge Philip Gross says of The Boys Are Killing Their Sims on the Family PC by Adam Panichi

Under the breathless brio of this deep dive into a contemporary culture there’s vertigo, a sense of danger, like dancing on thin though glittering ice – all held, you slowly realise, with a broad compassion; when the heartfelt final line says ‘all our drowning’ it really feels it might include us all.

Read The Boys Are Killing Their Sims on the Family PC

COMMENDED (alphabetical by title)

A Failure of Conflict Resolution among the Lilliputians by H Preston Soss

Disco Fever by Catherine Spooner

Drive into a Rainbow by Robert Fife

Richard and Smith by David Gilbert

Shane by Steve Logan


The judge this year was 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.


The first prize for the competition was £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.

Anna Woodford

J.J. Starr-McClain

Mark Fiddes

Who can enter?

  • The competition is international, open to poets writing in the English language
  • You must be 18 years of age or over to enter

What’s the prize?

  • First Prize: £1000 cash and a week’s poetry course with Arvon
    Second Prize: £500 Third Prize: £250
  • Winners will be invited to perform their work at Ledbury Poetry Festival 2024

Arvon logo


Arvon is the UK’s leading creative writing charity, founded in 1968. Arvon hosts writing courses and events in a range of genres, both in-person and online. Residential writing weeks are held in three rural writing houses in Devon, Shropshire and Yorkshire. With the opportunity to live and work with professional writers, participants transform their writing through workshops, one-to-one tutorials, time and space to write. An online programme of writing courses, masterclasses and free weekly readings also runs year-round. Grants and concessions are available to help with course fees.