UK’s Forward Prizes for Poetry 2023 winners announced.

UK’s Forward Prizes for Poetry 2023 winners announced.

Jason Allen-Paisant, Malika Booker, and Momtaza Mehri won at the Forward Prize for Poetry 2023 in Leeds, UK on Monday, October 16, 2023.

The Forward Prizes for Poetry were founded by William Sieghart to celebrate excellence in poetry and increase its audience in 1992. There are four prizes on offer: The Forward Prize for Best Collection (£10,000), The Felix Dennis Prize for Best First Collection (£5,000), The Forward Prize for Best Single Poem (£1,000), and the new Forward Prize for Best Single Poem – Performed (£1,000). Previous winners include Kei Miller, Danez Smith, Claudia Rankine, and Malika Booker.

The 2023 edition of the prize was judged by Booker Prize winner Bernardine Evaristo (collections categories Chair) alongside Kate Fox, Karen McCarthy Woolf, Andrés N. Ordórica, and Jessica Traynor. The single poem categories panel is chaired by Joelle Taylor who is joined by Khadijah Ibrahiim, Caroline Bird, Chris Redmond, and Sue Roberts.

The shortlists for the awards were announced on June 30 before the winners were revealed at a ceremony in Leeds on Monday. The winners of writers of African descent are;

Best Collection

Jason Allen-Paisant
Jason Allen-Paisant
  • Self Portrait as Othello, Jason Allen-Paisant

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.’

Jason Allen-Paisant said, “Deep gratitude. Mama, this is for you—as always.”

The Felix Dennis Prize for Best First Collection

Momtaza Mehri
Momtaza Mehri
  • Bad Diaspora Poems, Momtaza Mehri

Bernardine Evaristo described it 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.’

Momtaza Mehri, “This one’s for all those who taught me to think in communion and confrontation. Bad Diaspora Poems was for you. All my gratitude.”

Best Single Poem – Written

Malika Booker
Malika Booker
  • Libation, Malika Booker

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. The two poems that are awarded the prize from each category are technically brilliant but also navigate an emotional response that brought us here, to this room. They reminded us that at the heart of every poem is indeed heart. Chairing this year’s Best Single Poem Written and Performed categories has been exhilarating. I’ve been privileged to think alongside a panel of the most extraordinary thought makers and cultural activists in order to come to these decisions. We were drawn to the expanse of imagining, the detail in the delivery. 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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