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Forward Prizes 2023 Winners Announced

At a packed ceremony at Leeds Playhouse, Chairs of Judges Bernardine Evaristo and Joelle Taylor announced the four category winners for the 2023 Forward Prizes for Poetry, including the first ever Best Single Poem – Performed winner.

Forward Arts Foundation promotes knowledge and enjoyment of poetry across the UK. A national charity, they build diverse mass audiences for poetry, showcase the best new work, and support the careers of emerging and underrepresented poets. Their flagship programmes: National Poetry Day and the Forward Prizes for Poetry, enable all to enjoy, discover and share poetry as performers, writers, listeners and readers.

Following an electrifying evening of live performances from the shortlisted authors, the winners were announced: Jason Allen-Paisant, Self-Portrait as Othello (Best Collection), Momtaza Mehri, Bad Diaspora Poems (Felix Dennis Prize for Best First Collection), Malika Booker, ‘Libation’ (Best Single Poem – Written) and Bohdan Piasecki, ‘Almost Certainly’ (Best Single Poem – Performed), with a total prize pot of £17,000.

Renowned for championing new poetic voices and internationally celebrated writers alike, the four winners announced represent the diverse excellence of contemporary poetry, and all its boundary-pushing innovations.

Jamaican writer and academic Jason Allen-Paisant collected the prize for Best Collection in Leeds, the city where he lives, for his seminal Self-Portrait as Othello (Carcanet). Chair of Judges for the Best Collections panel, Bernardine Evaristo, called it: "An exhilarating and propulsive read that sweeps through several European cities that become subject to the black male gaze, changing what is seen and who is heard. Playful, intimate and allusive, these poems interrogate masculinity and history, experiment with the myth of Othello, mourn absent fathers, and offer us a refreshing mash-up of languages that regenerate poetry so that it feels freshly minted."

Former Young People’s Laureate of London Momtaza Mehri was awarded the Felix Dennis Prize for Best First Collection for her critically acclaimed Bad Diaspora Poems (Jonathan Cape), described by Bernardine Evaristo as: "An exceptional debut collection that reinvigorates ideas around diaspora, migration and home. Wide-ranging and ambitious, her poetry shimmers with erudition and linguistic exquisiteness, while also having an emotional heart. Drawing on global cultures, Mehri is a truly transnational poet of the twenty-first century whose words pulsate out into the world-at-large."

Malika Booker, also based in Leeds, became the first woman to win the Best Single Poem – Written category twice, first in 2020, and this year for ‘Libation’, originally published in The Poetry Review. 2023 judge Chris Redmond said: "Malika’s piece reads like a drink. A slow pour of linguistic libation that funnels the reader down into the depths of ritual, grief, culture and society. It works hard to tread so lightly and holds all of this with tenderness and love."

Polish-born, Birmingham-based performer and professor Bohdan Piasecki became the inaugural winner of the widely-celebrated new category Best Single Poem – Performed, for his moving exploration of Polish and British communities in ‘Almost Certainly’. 2023 judge Chris Redmond said: "Bohdan’s poem is not only moving and meticulously crafted, his performance of it is electric. It’s a great example of how many things come into play for ‘performance poetry’ to be more than a recitation. It’s the combination of physical and emotional presence, connection with the audience, command over voice, pace, dynamic range, and sensitivity at all times, to the poem itself."

Chair of Judges for the Best Single Poems panel, Joelle Taylor, said: "I am indebted to the spoken word scene in the UK and internationally for showing me how to build the stage I stand on. It is a distinct art, and I am thrilled that the Forward Prizes have made this distinction relevant and important. In truth, everyone on the shortlists won. We know it, and we hope the shortlistees do too. A brilliant, wide future awaits everyone.’


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