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K-State Today

May 5, 2017

Riley Gay named Sullivan Poetry Award 2017 winner

Submitted by Noelle Blood

Riley Gay, a senior English major specializing in creative writing, has been named the 2017 Sullivan Poetry Award Winner for her poem "We Know This Dance."

The contest, which is open to all K-State students, received a record 82 submissions this year from students in the Colleges of Agriculture; Architecture, Planning & Design; Arts and Sciences; Business Administration; Education; Engineering; and Human Ecology.

"We were surprised to get so many strong entries this year," said Amit Chakrabarti, dean of the College of Arts and Sciences. "The submissions reflected a wide range of interests and writing styles, and showcased high levels of creativity and artistic expression, which made judging and selecting a winner very difficult."

The Sullivan Poetry Award, now in its fourth year, is supported through a gift by an alumnus who, while not a formal writer himself, enjoys writing poetry and supporting the creative accomplishments of students.

Gay started at K-State as an architecture student, but will graduate in December 2017 with a Bachelor of Arts in English and minors in both American ethnic studies and nonprofit leadership studies.

"As a writer, it is greatly encouraging that my work is appreciated by those who read it," she said. "I could not have developed my love for poetry without the incredible faculty, inspiring coursework, and opportunities like the Sullivan Poetry Award that have pushed me to delve deeper into this incomparable art form."

Gay will receive a $2,000 prize for her winning submission:

"We Know This Dance" 

Before hearts learn to beat,
they learn to listen. They tie
their ropes around the nearest
song, pull tight, and
beg their body
to join.

There is a dance this land
has taught us. Even the flickering
tongue who swallows our fields
knows the beat. Each flaming footstep,
each breath of smoke, each
blade of prairie, each fistful
of earth is unpredictable,
yet perfectly
in time.

We know this dance because
the heartland sings it
to every heart willing to hear
its wide skies and gentle
edges. We throb with the rise
and fall of golden hills, with
the up and down of the day.

We know this dance because
our lungs found the patterns in the
wind, and they didn’t let go.
They found dust and pollen and
laughter and smoke. Our chests
learned not to sputter,
but to breathe one breath
and then another.

We know this dance because
we have spent our dawns
craving to climb next to
fire. We watch as it swells
with our golden hills. We watch
as it swells with the sunrise.
We watch as it waits, and as
it listens—as it ties
its ropes around
the rhythm and
pulls tight.

We know this dance because
this land has a heart that is