The 2023 Awards

The 2023 winners were as follows:

1st Prize         I DO EVERYTHING I’M TOLD – Megan Fernandes, Portland, Oregon, USA

Poetry Book Awards 2023 Winner - Megan FernandesMegan Fernandes is a South Asian American writer living in NYC. She was born in Canada and raised in the Philadelphia area. Her family are East African Goans.

Fernandes is an Associate Professor of English and the Writer-in-Residence at Lafayette College where she teaches courses on poetry, creative nonfiction, and critical theory. She holds a PhD in English from the University of California, Santa Barbara and an MFA in poetry from Boston University.

Her work published in The New Yorker, The American Poetry ReviewTin House, Ploughshares, Chicago Review, Boston Review, Rattle, PANK, The Common, Guernica, theAcademy of American Poets, and McSweeney’s Internet Tendency, among others.

She is also the author of The Kingdom and After (Tightrope Books, 2015) and Good Boys (Tin House, 2020). 

To find out more about her work, visit her website here.

2nd Prize         WHY WE FISHED – Michael Loderstedt, Cleveland, Ohio, USA

Poetry Book Awards 2023 - Runner up, Michael LoderstedtMichael Loderstedt’s work incorporates photography, printmaking, artist books and installation. He received his BFA in Printmaking from East Carolina University in 1981 and his MFA from Kent State University in 1985. His work is contained in various public collections including the Cleveland Museum of Art, Progressive Insurance, the Cleveland Clinic Foundation, the Akron Art Museum, and the Kupferstich-Kabinett in Dresden, Germany.

His work has been recently exhibited in solo exhibitions in Italy at the Santa Reparata Gallery in Florence and the Kulturrathaus in Dresden, the Alte Feuerwache Galerie in Loschwitz, and as part of Portrait 100 Project in Hellerau, Germany. Other recent exhibition venues have included the Print Center in Philadelphia and the International Print Center in New York and the City = Graphics exhibition at the Frank Taal Galerie in Rotterdam, Holland.

His poetry collection, ‘Why We Fished’ by Redhawk Publications draws on his childhood experiences growing up in North Carolina.

3rd Prize       AFTER THE FLOOD COMES THE APOLOGIES – Naoise Gale, Huddersfield, England

Poetry Book Awards 2023 - 3rd place winner, Naoise Gale

Naoise Gale is a poet from West Yorkshire who writes about mental illness and addiction. She was first-prize winner of the Ledbury Poetry Competition 2022, runner-up in the AUB Poetry Prize 2023, and shortlisted in the Bridport Poetry Prize 2023.

Her work has been published in Lighthouse, Tears in the Fence, and Atrium, amongst others. Her debut pamphlet After the Flood Comes the Apologies was published by Nine Pens Press. Naoise is currently studying an MA in Creative Writing Poetry at the University of East Anglia and is working on her first full-length collection.

You can find her on Twitter at @NaoiseGale13.

Judges comments:

Judging any contest is never easy. On a Monday you like this poem, on a Tuesday you like this other one and so on… But this poetry book competition has been the toughest yet for me. No consolation to those writers that haven’t won of course, but as somebody who hasn’t got a great track record in competitions I’ve entered, I can easily sympathise.

Amongst the ‘almosts’ were books about the Romany language, pig songs, magic, the Anthropocene, dementia, travel, our connection to the universe, mental health, painting, war, Cyprus, nature, Pakistani culture, Buddhism, the power of the sea, flies, eco poetry and plastic bags! There was such a huge diversity of subjects, styles and passion.

OK, twenty-five books was hard but I managed, ten though proved far trickier.  I got it down to twelve, then sadly let go of the very moving ‘Made of Stories’ by Ade Couper and the amazing summoning of memories, ‘Anamnesis’ by Denise O’Hagan. I had my ten.

Of course, the stress didn’t end there, I now had to elevate three, just three, to the top spots. Who made these crazy rules? Or yeh I did, shit.

I got it down to five or six, but in the end, I went with my gut and picked those books that were full of poems that kicked me in the teeth or tugged at my heartstrings. ‘It’s the way I roll,’ he says.

1st Prize – I Do Everything I’m Told by Megan Fernandes

A seething, edgy, mystical, surgically precise collection of love songs that hops from continent to continent. From L.A. to Lisbon, from Paris to Palermo, a subtle restlessness permeates these superbly crafted poems about lust, lovers, history, literature and specific moments in time and place.

The opening poem conjured up William Carlos Williams’ wheelbarrow for me while the prose that follows moves between Michelle Tea and the beats. The pace slowly quickens, we begin to travel, to move, to miscarry, to mature, to dream, to make love. ‘I fuck like a last request.’

A relationship in Shanghai becomes galactic, ‘on Saturn’s highway of ice.’ ‘you’ll hop a few rings,’ while there is always an awareness of time, ‘simultaneous dawns breaking over Hong Kong and Nairobi’.

Section II of the collection brings ‘beloveds’ to life in cut-ups reminiscent of Burroughs, from Brooklyn to Philadelphia emotions ‘wander’ and entangle.

The third part of the book opens with ‘Do you sell dignity here?’ – a superb poem, ‘I would have taken a hug’, children’s ruthless innocence, ‘their desire to feed birds in the park.’

For me, the poems build in energy now, ‘I want our years to keep meeting.’ ‘We puppet our meat in the grey twilight of the real world…’ A middle-aged tattoo at thirty-five (I object, I’m only 57!), cleaning Ezra Pound’s grave even though he was a mad right-winger. Falling in love on a plane to Switzerland, and from the title poem, ‘You give me that cathedral feeling and wipe rain from blooms of jasmine shrubs on my arm…’

‘On your departure from California’ is a Ginsberg-like howl, ‘Where night falls only after mine.’ And the last poem, ‘Love poem’, sublime, from ‘fat seals’ to a ‘misfit raccoon’, from West to East, to a final cathartic realisation that happiness does happen, joy is real even though sometimes it takes us a lifetime to unravel and appreciate it.

This is a wonderful collection of fabulous poetry and one I shall return to like a favourite album. Parting the branches to let the daylight in, discovering a new best track each time perhaps.


2nd Prize – Why We Fished by Michael Loderstedt

This was a book that ‘hooked’ me from the start. The dark cover, the grey photographs, aged, haunting. Reminded me of the ‘Portugal. The Man’ video for ‘Modern Jesus’ and how the rest of the world’s view of the rich, sunshine, California kind of U.S.A. isn’t always the right one.

This book drew me in. A complete piece of art.

I don’t often like themed collections where the whole book is about one thing but this work carries it off easily.

Beginning with a Henry David Thoreau quote our first poem thrusts us into the ‘light late in coming across the field, catching just dandelion seed-globes.’

A hero father, separation, a mother that moved the kids to the island. Sadness and regret drips out of the pages but there is also a sense of belonging (of hiraeth) for the island which clearly has it’s own soul.

A photograph of mother, ‘Lit cigarette dangles from slender hand of movie star.’

Bogue Banks, North Carolina has a rich history. Robert E. Lee designed jetties there and the infamous pirate, Edward Teach (Blackbeard) also settled there, ‘Ten men coughing down in the hold, Brimstone’s burning, eyes pour blood, Let’s run this ship onto the mud.’

Children growing up with the sea as a constant companion, the dunes, the winds, the boarded-up houses, the fishing trips, the snakes, the boats, the rains, the sharks. Grief and loss are delicately interwoven between poems about whales and baby turtle rescue. You can really taste the poetry and the place!

‘An oily lunch of sardines smothered on Saltines, red dots of Texas Pete washed down with RC Cola, peanuts floating in clear-brown bottles of spit.’

And from the title poem, ‘we fished to be away, to feel each bump and guess, scratching for something larger than this place, this lot.’

An excellent poetry collection and a worthy 2nd place winner.

3rd Prize – After The Flood Comes The Apologies by Naoise Gale

Sometimes less is more, and this perfect pamphlet of less than thirty pages is certainly that.

Another book that grabbed me from the beginning. I kept going back to it, eager to find out more, desperate for a happy ending.

‘Before shitty knickers and puked cookies,’ an honest, heartbreaking account of a talented student’s fall from grace. The descent into mental anguish, drugs and bulimia. Nothing is left out. The good and bad, the distress of withdrawal and the ever-present temptation to slip back into the abyss.

The highs – ‘The sun spun and spat fat orange sparks onto the lawn.’ and ‘You had never known the colour of the wind -’

The lows – ‘the toilet clogged with thick, undigested puke.’

‘You asked to see my scars…’ is followed by ‘Tomorrow you will get clean.’ – these are painfully authentic statements from a very mature poet who writes beautifully about nature as well as illness…

‘sunlight that streamed onto me like melted butter.’ and ‘when lightning smacks the grey cheek of sky’ show us that this is a poet who can and should write about something else!

A superb poetry book and a richly deserved 3rd-place winner.


I would like to mention my three almosts – ‘The Maggot on Maple Street’, ‘Reap’ and ‘I Have Decided To Remain Vertical’ – all fab collections that would win many contests themselves.

I should also add how much I have admired some of the book covers. My favourite was ‘I Do Everything I’m Told’ but I also loved ‘Helen Of Bikini’ by Phoebe Reeves and ‘My love life & other disasters’ by Josa Keyes. All three books contain excellent poetry as well.

And finally, I’d like to say a big thank you to all those poets who entered their books for this contest. It is easy to get hemmed in and bogged down with many traditionally published, unambitious, often rather safe poets’ work and so this competition is both refreshing and reassuring for it shows us all that there is still a world of magic out there just waiting to be discovered. If faith in certain modern poetry trends were ever lost it has now been fully restored.

– Dave Lewis

The best books of 2023


(in no particular order)

I Have Decided To Remain Vertical – Gayelene Carbis

I Do Everything I’m Told – Megan Fernandes

After The Flood Comes The Apologies – Naoise Gale

The Maggot on Maple Street – Courtenay Schembri Gray

A Census Of Preconceptions – Oz Hardwick

Why We Fished – Michael Loderstedt

Helen of Bikini – Phoebe Reeves

Inside Out – Julie-Ann Rowell

Reap – Mara Adamitz Scrupe

The Two Of Them Might Outlast Me – Jeanine Walker

To find out more or buy copies of these great books just click the author/title above.


(in no particular order)

The Life Dyslexic – Philip Burton

The Celestial Spheres – David Canning

I Have Decided To Remain Vertical – Gayelene Carbis

Made of Stories – Ade Couper

I Do Everything I’m Told – Megan Fernandes

After The Flood Comes The Apologies – Naoise Gale

goat song – Dean Gessie

Grace Note – Peter Godfrey

The Maggot on Maple Street – Courtenay Schembri Gray

A Census Of Preconceptions – Oz Hardwick

my love life & other disasters – josa keyes

Our Lively Kingdom – Julia Lisella

Why We Fished – Michael Loderstedt

Mothernest – Sandy Longley

Anamnesis – Denise O’Hagan

thicket – harry owen

Helen of Bikini – Phoebe Reeves

Inside Out – Julie-Ann Rowell

House with the Mansard Roof – Frances Sackett

in the bare bones house of was – Mara Adamitz Scrupe

Reap – Mara Adamitz Scrupe

Walkways – Derek Seymour

The Two Of Them Might Outlast Me – Jeanine Walker

Unstill Mosaics – James Walton

Night Bus To Monte Carlo – Mark Ward

As well as our 25 longlist winners I also felt the following were worthy of mention:

A Tide Should Be Able To Rise Despite It’s Moon – Jessica Bell

Birth Mote(s) – Annie Cowell

Alive in Dubbo – D G Lloyd

Tilted Days – Shirley Nicholson

To find out more or buy copies of these great books just click the author/title above.

Our Top 3 winners will be announced on 1st November 2023 so please call back then or sign up for our newsletter to be kept up to date.

Waterstones books

Results were announced on our website, Facebook Group and Twitter on 1st November, 2023. We have also informed the UK national press, Bylines Cymru, Ponty Pages, Literature Wales, Wales Online and associated district newspapers, Nation Cymru, Buzz magazine, BBC Wales and RCTCBC, as well as many organisations on our mailing list. Thanks to all those who entered and look forward to reading your work next year.

Enter your book – click here.