Ledbury Poetry Critics

Ledbury Critics

Ledbury Poetry Critics

In 2017 Ledbury Poetry Critics launched its first year-long intensive mentorship programme, recruiting 12 critics of colour, and has been responsible for increasing the visibility of poets and critics of colour. The programme was founded by Sandeep Parmar and Sarah Howe with support from Ledbury Poetry. They have now been joined by co-organisers Vidyan Ravinthiran, Janine Bradbury and Alycia Pirmohamed. Dave Coates will continue statistical work for Ledbury Critics.

Its latest annual report found that since the Ledbury Poetry Critics programme was founded, the percentage of poetry criticism by reviewers of colour in the UK press had more than doubled. Graduates of the programme are now be found in positions of influence across the UK media, whilst Ledbury Poetry Critic Mary Jean Chan became first ever poet of colour to win the Costa Prize for Poetry in 2020.

Ledbury Poetry Critics offered a year-long intensive mentorship scheme for 8 emerging poetry reviewers of colour in 2017: Dzifa Benson, Srishti Krishnamoorthy-Cavell, Mary Jean Chan, Jade Cuttle, Sarala Estruch, Maryam Hessavi, Nasser Hussain and Jennifer Lee-Tsai. In 2019, four more critics were selected: Victoria Adukwei Bulley, Joanna Lee, Sarah-Jean Zubair, and Stephanie Sy-Quia. These critics have since published reviews in The Guardian, The Telegraph, The New Statesman, the Times Literary Supplement, The Poetry Review, Poetry Wales, Poetry London and many other magazines and journals.

In 2021 the programme was awarded funding by an Arts and Humanities Research Council EDI Fellowship to expand as a long-term goal that more critics of colour should take up editorial positions was set — a professional level that remains overwhelmingly white. To tackle this, editorships-in-residency have been set up with our partner publications.

The expanded network of critics participated in the scheme via a series of free public panel events, workshops and masterclasses. These have been hosted by Ledbury Poetry Critics partner organisations: the London Review of Books, the Royal Society of Literature, the Scottish BAME Writers Network, the Forward Arts Foundation, Spread the Word, Poetry Ireland and Literature Wales.

In addition, an accessible and protected database (via Uni of Liverpool) of the findings taken from the report will be made publically available to readers, critics and researchers of UK poetry culture. These expanded quantitative measures will be shared and refined in consultation with editors, arts policy organisations, statisticians and critics, as will a method of annual reporting and peer auditing, to ensure accuracy and reliability of data.

In 2023 the Ledbury Poetry Critics programme received funding from The Hawthornden Foundation which enabled the first Guest Curator at Ledbury Poetry Festival, Stephanie Sy-Quia and enabled Ledbury Poetry Critics to Chair events throughout the ten day Festival alongside some new commissions.

The funding from the Hawthornden Foundation in 2023 enabled Ledbury Poetry Critic Stephanie Sy-Quia to work as the first Guest Curator at Ledbury Poetry Festival. Stephanie won the 2022 Forward Prize for Best First Collection with Amnion (Granta). Director Chloe Garner said ‘By changing the gatekeepers, Ledbury Poetry Festival looks to build diverse future audiences and a rich and thriving poetry scene. Stephanie’s events were characterised by their intriguing, provocative and thoughtful themes.’

Stephanie Sy-Quia said ‘Ledbury Poetry Festival has played an invaluable role in my life, one which is hard to overstate. It has helped me find my vocation when I was first trying to take myself seriously as a writer, it gave me a supportive and inspiring community and an invigorating sense of purpose through the Ledbury Poetry Critics programme. The Festival and all those involved with it do so much for poetry in these islands, making it vibrant, enlivening force which flourishes.’

Stephanie programmed events throughout the Festival including looking some fabulous paired events including poetry and ballet, poetry and wild swimming, poetry and wine.

Ledbury Poetry Critic Oluwaseun Olayiwola is also a choreographer and working with words from Ian McMillan, Oluwaseun choreographed a new dance ‘Swan Sequence’ premiered at Ledbury Poetry Festival 2023, thanks to funding from Hawthornden.

Ledbury Poetry Critics Alycia Pirmohamed and Nina Minga Powles came to Ledbury to read their watery poems in an event wild swimming in the Herefordshire sunshine. Ledbury Poetry Critics and Mentors Will Harris, Sarala Estruch, Nasser Hussain, Oluwaseun Olayiwola, Omar Bin Musa, Nisha Ramayya, Shalini Sengupta and Dzifa Benson were all programmed to talk, chair and debate with international and UK based poets in Ledbury across the ten days of the Festival, thanks to funding from Hawthornden.

You can hear some of the events chaired by Ledbury Poetry Critics on Ledbury Poetry Player:

It is often said that writing is one of many ways to kill your mother. But what if it was a form of honouring, or both, or neither? Join Sarala Estruch and Stephanie Sy-Quia, friends and fellow Ledbury Poetry Critics, as they discuss their debuts, After All We Have Travelled and Amnion. Together, they will probe the modes of writing about family, their many difficulties, anxieties, and joys, and where to write from next. 09. Family Histories: Sarala Estruch and Stephanie Sy-Quia – Ledbury Poetry

  • Sandeep Parmar, co-founder of the programme says, “My sense is that in the long term, critics of colour will find in-roads into every poetry reviewing platform, and editors will be encouraged, by a revived interest in reviewing, to raise the profile of reviewing on their pages….on the whole, the programme has received tremendous support from editors and, where necessary, we will keep reminding those few who have yet to take action.”
  • Emily Berry, Editor of The Poetry Review says, ‘The high standard of the work produced by the first round of Ledbury Critics gives the lie to the demeaning notion often trotted out by detractors of diversity schemes that ‘quality suffers’. In fact this scheme has been hugely enriching to poetry reviewing culture overall… reviewing culture urgently needs more of this kind of attention and input if it is to remain alive.’
  • Ledbury Poetry Critics co-founder Sarah Howe comments, ‘The immense success of the programme’s first round is a tribute to the hard work of its eight talented participants. Article by article, they are changing the culture. I hope that the gains of the last year or so won’t prove a brief comet, but a more lasting change: ultimately, it’s up to reviews editors to take up that mantle in their ongoing commissioning.’
  • Jade Cuttle, Ledbury Critic and Commissioning Editor (Arts), The Times says, ‘The Ledbury Critics Programme has been absolutely crucial to developing my credentials as a critic – I’ve been asked to write for publications like the GuardianThe Times Literary SupplementThe Poetry Review and many others as a direct result of being selected for this brilliant scheme. The intensive workshops, one-to-one mentorship and critical feedback has really helped to hone my craft, and in ways that reach beyond the proclaimed eight-month duration by developing long-term professional relations.’
  • Professor Christopher Smith, AHRC Executive Chair, says, ‘Learning about our heritage and culture and participating in the arts can deepen our perception of our history and of ourselves. The EDI Engagement Fellowships will enable researchers to connect their scholarship with diverse communities across the UK and bring about positive change. Arts and humanities research has tremendous potential to help people to embrace different viewpoints and to build a fairer, more inclusive society.’

Mentees are:

Amaan Hyder
Annie Fan
April Yee
Chloe Hasti Crowther
Esther Heller
Gazelle Mba
Helen Bowell
Isabelle Baafi
Leah Jun Oh
Maggie Wang
Mantra Mukim
Marvin Thompson
Memoona Zahid
Niroshini Somasundaram
Oluwaseun Olayiwola
Pratyusha Prakash
Shalini Sengupta
Shash Trevett

Mentors are:

Sarah Howe
Sandeep Parmar
Vidyan Ravinthiran
Jane Yeh
Will Harris
Jay G. Ying
Vahni Capildeo
Kit Fan
Nisha Ramayya
Jeremy Noel-Tod
Dzifa Benson
Jade Cuttle
Dave Coates
Khairani Barokka
Leo Boix
Seán Hewitt
Yvette Siegert


Isabelle Baafi is the Reviews Editor at Poetry London. Her debut pamphlet, Ripe (ignitionpress), won a Somerset Maugham Award and was a PBS Pamphlet Choice. Her debut pamphlet, Ripe (2020, ignitionpress), was the Poetry Book Society’s Pamphlet Choice for Spring 2021. She was the winner of the 2019 Vincent Cooper Literary Prize, and was shortlisted for the 2021 Brunel International African Poetry Prize, the 2020 Bridport Prize for Poetry, and the 2019 Oxford Brookes International Poetry Competition. She was also Commended in the 2020 Verve Poetry Festival Competition. Her poems have been published in The Poetry Review, Magma, Anthropocene, Tentacular, and elsewhere. Her writing has been published in The Poetry Review, The London Magazine, Aesthetica Magazine, and elsewhere. She is a Ledbury Poetry Critic, an Obsidian Foundation Fellow, and an editor at Magma. She is currently studying Creative Writing at Kellogg College, Oxford, and writing her debut collection.

Helen Bowell is a London-based poet and co-director of Dead [Women] Poets Society. She is a graduate of The Writing Squad, an alumna of the London Library Emerging Writers Programme, London Writers Awards and the Roundhouse Poetry Collective. Helen won the 2020 Bronze Creative Future Writers’ Award and was commended in the Mslexia Poetry Competition in 2021. She was Poetry Business’s digital Poet in Residence February 2021. Her poems have appeared in bath magg, Poetry Birmingham, Ambit, Introduction X: The Poetry Business Book of New Poets (2017) and elsewhere. She works at The Poetry Society, tweets @helen_bowell, and her website is helenbowell.co.uk.

Annie Fan (she/they) reads law at Oxford University, where she was president of the poetry society. Their poetry appears or will appear in Poetry London, Puerto Del Sol, The Offing, Ambit, and PN Review, among others. She is currently working on a commission in response to the COVID-19 pandemic for the Barbican Centre in London. When not writing or studying for exams they can be found trying to recreate viral pasta recipes, buying too many earrings, and basking in the sun.

Hasti is a British-Iranian poet and screenwriter based in South East London. Her poems have appeared in the Poetry Review and PERVERSE mag, but most often at open mic & poetry night FRESH LIP. Most recently, she has recorded a one-off radio show for Montez Press titled The Cyborg Archives, which explores the idea of the cyborg as a being of mixed heritage. Hasti has also co-written a short sci-fi film, which is currently in production with Film4. You can find her on Twitter @youarehasti.

Amaan Hyder is the author of At Hajj (Penned in the Margins, 2017). His poetry has appeared in The Guardian, Poetry Review, Poetry London and elsewhere. He is studying for a PhD at Royal Holloway, University of London, and tweets @hyder_amaan.

Esther Kondo is a poet, writer, Barbican Young Poet 2018/2019, and experimental poetry filmmaker. They recently graduated with an Undergraduate Diploma in Creative Writing from the University of Oxford and have performed their poetry amongst other places at the Roundhouse, APT Gallery and the Barbican and you can find them on Instagram @howtogrowaflower.

Gazelle Mba is a Nigerian writer, editor, radio host and DJ currently based in London. She is one of the editors of Nommo, a magazine dedicated to anti-imperialist struggles in the global south and tweets @mba_gazelle.

Mantra Mukim is a doctoral candidate in the Department of English & Comparative Literary Studies, University of Warwick. His poems and essays have appeared in Magma, Charles River Journal, Caravan, Almost Island, Review 31 and Asymptote among other places.

Oluwaseun is an American choreographer, poet, and critic based in London. He recently completed his MFA in Choreography from the Trinity Laban Conservatoire of Music and Dance. In 2018, he was awarded a Fulbright Scholarship to the United Kingdom, where he began to write poetry. His poetry attempts to mine his deepest selves as a Nigerian-American, a queer man, as a dancer and a writer. His website is oluwaseunolayiwola.com, and he can be found on Twitter and Instagram @itsamule.

Leah Oh is a British and Malaysian-Chinese writer living in London. Her recent work is an MA dissertation exploring unfixity, fluidity, and opacity in the work of Mei-Mei Berssenbrugge and Clarice Lispector.

Pratyusha is an Indo-Swiss writer based in London. Her latest pamphlet, Bulbul Calling, was published with Bitter Melon Press in 2020. She co-edits amberflora and writes poetry, prose and reviews. Her website can be found at https://pratyusha.co.uk/, and she tweets @nala_e_bulbul.

Shalini Sengupta is a final year PhD student supervised by Professor Sara Crangle and Dr. Samuel Solomon at the University of Sussex, UK. Her PhD is fully funded by the Chancellor’s International Research Scholarship and explores the concept of modernist difficulty in British (and diasporic) poetry through the lens of intersectionality. In 2019-2020, she was a Research Assistant for the May Sinclair Critical Editions Project at the University of Sheffield, and was funded by the British Academy/Leverhulme Small Research Grants. Her academic writing has been published in Modernism/modernity Print Plus, Contemporary Women’s Writing, and the Journal of British and Irish Innovative Poetry. She has also been invited to write a book chapter on contemporary UK poetry, which is forthcoming with The Bloomsbury Companion to Contemporary Poetry in Ireland and the UK in 2022. You can find her on Twitter @shaliniseng.

Devina Shah reads English and Modern Languages at Wadham College, Oxford. She is the founder of Quince Magazine, an online literary and visual arts journal featuring the work of emerging, established and marginalised writers and artists from around the world. http://www.quincemag.com

Yvette Siegert is a Latinx poet and translator. She has edited for the United Nations and The New Yorker and has received support from CantoMundo, the Community of Writers, the Kenyon Review Writers Workshops, and the National Endowment for the Arts. Her work was recently shortlisted for the Rebecca Swift Foundation’s Women Poets’ Prize and the PEN Award for Poetry in Translation, and her translations of Alejandra Pizarnik, Extracting the Stone of Madness: Poems 1962–1972 (New Directions), won the Best Translated Book Award for Poetry. She is currently reading for a D.Phil. in Colombian Caribbean literature at Merton College, Oxford. You can find her @TheChronotope on Twitter.

S. Niroshini is a writer and poet based in London. She received Third Prize in the Poetry London Prize 2020 and a London Writers Award for Literary Fiction. Born in Sri Lanka, she was educated in Colombo, Melbourne and Oxford and studied English literature in her undergraduate degree and languages as part of a Master’s degree in Modern South Asian Studies. Her writing has appeared in publications such as The Good Journal, On Bodies (3 of Cups Press) and Wasafiri. Her debut poetry pamphlet Darling Girl is forthcoming with Bad Betty Press in May 2021. Website: sniroshini.com Twitter: @niroshinisoma

Shash Trevett is a Tamil from Sri Lanka who came to the UK to escape the civil war. She is a poet and a translator of Tamil poetry into English. She has collaborated with artists and composers and is a winner of a Northern Writers’ Award. Her pamphlet From a Borrowed Land was published by Smith|Doorstop in 2021. She is currently co-editing (with Vidyan Ravinthiran and Seni Seneviratne) an anthology of Tamil, English and Sinhala poetry from Sri Lanka and its diaspora communities. Shash was a 2021 Visible Communities Translator in Residence at the National Writing Centre and is a Board Member of Modern Poetry in Translation.

Maggie Wang’s recent work appears in Harvard Review, Poetry Wales, and bath magg. She is a Barbican Young Poet and the reviews editor at SUSPECT, the journal of NYC-based literary non-profit Singapore Unbound.

April Yee is a writer and translator of power and postcolonialism. A Harvard and Tin House alumna, she reported in more than a dozen countries before moving to the UK, where she reads for Triquarterly, contributes to Ploughshares online, and mentors for University of the Arts London’s Refugee Journalism Project. She can be found at http://www.aprilyee.com, and @aprilyee on Twitter.

Memoona Zahid is a Pakistani-British poet and writer based in London. After graduating from Goldsmiths, she recently completed her MA in Creative Writing from UEA. Her publications include Pain, Cusp, Anthropocene and bath magg. As well as poetry, she also writes essays and reviews.

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