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November 14, 2013

Lisa J. Sullivan, ’16, is the United States winner of the Ireland Poetry Project Prize. Her winning entry, “To the Bog of Allen,” is an ekphrastic poem, which means it was written in response to another work of art. Ms. Sullivan’s poem is in response to a short video by Nigel Rolfe called, “Into the Mire.” The poem is printed below; to see the video, visit The Poetry Project’s U.S. winner.

“I was elated,” Ms. Sullivan said of learning her poem had been chosen. “I have a special affinity for ekphrastic poetry, so this win really bolstered my confidence in that category." 

The Plymouth resident is an English major with a writing concentration. Her ultimate goal is to earn an MFA in poetry. She cites an undergraduate research project through the Adrian Tinsley Program as a turning point.

“I am thankful to the BSU faculty members who have been so supportive of my writing, especially during my ATP Creative Grant project last summer,” she said. “After that experience, I felt emboldened enough to start entering poetry contests.” 

The victory comes only months after Ms. Sullivan published her first chapbook of 11 poems, The Childless Mother, written with the support of a 2013 ATP summer grant. The poems explore the complex emotions of childless (or “childfree”) people in order to help dispel lingering social stigmas about those who do not have children, whether by choice, family circumstances, miscarriage, or infertility. 

Ms. Sullivan’s poems are told in a variety of voices and perspectives – male and female, each in a different context, with myriad thoughts and emotions about their childfree lives and their nurturing relationships with the children of friends and siblings. She says she hopes the poems offer nuanced insight into the human desires, choices, and misfortunes that lead some to become parents and others not. 

The poems in The Childless Mother suggests that those without children cannot be dismissed as selfish, unfulfilled, or uncaring, but are each unique in circumstances and choices, steadfastness and fluctuating feelings. Interviews with a psychologist, a pastor, and several childless/childfree people and close reading of research and literary texts helped inform the perspectives expressed in the poems in The Childless Mother

The contest for the Ireland Poetry Prize is held in collaboration with the Academy of American Poets (

To the Bog of Allen

By Lisa J. Sullivan

(Written in response to Into the Mire by Nigel Rolfe)

You are lonely because

you claim the lonely–

ancient dolmens,

abandoned trackways,

restless folk who fail

to check your depth

before they step.

But I saw that man

who stood on the edge

of your edge

and fell like a domino

into what he thought

was a part of himself.

Your typical lure–

he mistook a water ripple

for a weary mouth

pleading, “Help.”

You have always lain

between two sides

of a thing:

The Liffey–The Shannon.

They feed you

even when you aren’t hungry.

Did you let him rise

because you had no appetite?

Or have you learned to tell

the difference between

those who come to give

and those who come to take?

Dazed with your poison,

I thought he may give in,

but you let him crawl away.

Tell me–has your acidic palate

grown to dislike the taste

of the will of man?

Lisa Sullivan, '16