Our Publication Process:
We selected the following poem, “lily,” for the fourth issue of Sink Hollow and here’s why.
“lily” by Alex Henkle (page 32 of issue 4)
He got really drunk
the rocky ground
which once supported his feet.
His eyes were blooming
before the lids fell,
into the ground.
ask a girl
if she is tired,”
sipping her last beer.
“You will thank me later.”
Upon the red dawn
of a foreign horizon,
folding his papers
into her sack.
What dreams await her this morning?
We sift through hundreds of poems searching for something like “lily.” Poems that have that off-the-bat allure that pulls us in and leaves us hanging on the final line. Poems that take command of their own voice and crawl into their own character. Poems that aren’t just a spat of intriguing words or emotionally jarring ideas but that speak far beyond a first or second read through. In the myriad of pieces we’ve read, fought for and against, rejected, and accepted over the issues, one of the lessons we’ve come across is the value of fresh perspective. We’ve read enough work-in-progress to know the difference between subject and presentation. It’s the idea that you can be given fifty unique poems about the same thing or you can be handed fifty of the same poem, each with a different subject.
As undergraduate editors, collapsing relationships and drunkenness aren’t exactly new to us. While we recognize that not everything can find a totally unique subject, we appreciate when a piece can become its own. Part of what made “lily” initially attractive was its ability to reimagine the familiar into something genuinely new and gripping. For instance, stanza one opens with a character that is both exhausting, having gotten “really drunk / again,” and emotionally appealing on “rocky ground / which once supported his feet.” On our first read through, this figure piqued our desire to be both enraged and to feel pity at the same time. The tension created externally to and within the character, along with the delicate mystery of the poem’s title kept us reading. It is the careful choice of words like “stiff-legging” that play a role in our earnest return to the piece. The word plays on the term stiff-arm, which means to keep at a distance. Here, this simple bit of description keys into the deeper emotional conflict of the poem and makes it something tantalizing to return to.
The second stanza carries the emotional weight of the first by likening “his eyes” to “daisy petals” but this metaphor does much more than add a layer of depth to the character. The daisy may seem like a go-to cliche flower choice, but in this case it has particular literary and botanical implications. The destruction of the daisy, a flower symbolizing innocence and cheerfulness, becomes a symbolic shift in the characters’ dispositions. The man in the poem is being developed while simultaneously beginning to hint at the emergence of a second character through the line, “loves-me-not.” This little reference to the child’s game is a prime example of something familiar being turned into something new. It speaks to both of the characters’ sides of the relationship at once and, given its context, ironically falls at the end of a relationship rather than the beginning. The situation of an action that has the potential to become cliche, in this striking context, has the inverse effect of being emotionally charged.
The language of “lily”is not just efficient, it is densely packed and multifaceted. For example, a fun fact one of our editors recently pointed out added yet another level to the daisy metaphor. The daisy is a member of the Asteraceae family, which means it is made of two separate flowers called florets. Here, the flower of two is being pulled apart and each piece is found “crinkling slowly / into the ground” to echo the action of the first stanza.
The third stanza opens with the same sense of tired ambiguity that the first two establish well. However, the introduction of dialogue brings us to a tangible voice and shifts the tone to a much more intimate place. The line breaks here are especially effective for the dialogue. For instance, “Please” is given its own line which emphasizes the importance of what is about to be asked, as well as showing the vulnerability of the speaker. The line that follows, “don’t ever” adds a grave conviction to the mysterious speaker’s tone. Then the lines, “ask a girl / if she is tired” speak to the total nature of the developing relationship and, through their specificity, perfectly build the underlying tension of the poem. Finally, the mystery of the title is revealed along with the unfolding tension in the line “lily says.” Here, we are given a well rounded image of who lily is within the context of the poem and the use of her name serves as a tangible joint for the rest of the piece to hinge on.
At this point in the poem, certain questions have been resolved but others have been raised. The ability to successfully wield ambiguity and leave a reader hanging on the right amount of uncertainty without failing to disclose anything valuable to the poem is a balancing act. Here, “lily” runs the risk of leaving us wanting to know more about the unfolding mystery of the relationship between the two characters in a way that is not tasteful. There is also the possibility of overstating, or “telling” too much about the nature of the relationship. The line “lily says” here both introduces her as a concrete character and becomes the turning point of the poem and tension. In both the dialogue and the description of lily “sipping her last beer,” she is given a positive action that carries the reader through to the end of the piece. This positive action is reflected in her returning “the wineglass,” and “folding his papers / neatly / back / into her sack.”
Instead of expounding too plainly on the nature of the relationship, it is captured by the folded papers and the returning of the glass. These details tie up necessary ends without overstating and shift the tone of the uncertainty that we are left with to something thought provoking and positive in the line “What dreams await her this morning?” There is a confidence in the almost inconclusive feel to this final line. There isn’t a need to wrap the piece up and slap a bow on it. The door is not slammed shut on the reader, instead, it is left ajar and invites us to come along with it.