Contest Closed

Thanks to everyone who submitted work to our 2015 poetry chapbook contest and the inaugural prose chapbook contest! We are so grateful for the opportunity to read your work, and we’re excited to see such a range of interesting work in this batch.

We’ll share information about contest results later this summer, both here on our website and by email to all entrants.

Contest Deadline Extended

We’ve excited to announce that our contest deadlines will be extended for a few more days! Submissions for our prose and poetry chapbook contests, judged by Amber Sparks and Natalie Diaz, respectively, will now remain open until Friday, May 22 at 11:59 pm EST.

We look forward to reading your work! Visit our Guidelines page for more information; when you’re ready to go, you can submit your work here.

Cynthia Marie Hoffman on Writing Paper Doll Fetus, Feminism, Motherhood, & Place

Sarah Marcus: Firstly, your newest collection, Paper Doll Fetus, from Persea Books is absolutely stunning, strange, and gorgeous in all of the right ways. You give voice to the unborn and you examine the intimacies and intricacies of grief in all of its complexity and messiness. This work is layered, politically aware, and filled with beautiful and uncomfortable imagery. Can you tell us more about this project? What inspired you? What do you hope your reader takes away from these poems?

Cynthia Marie Hoffman: Thank you. The poems came about initially years ago as I was watching the documentary The Business of Being Born, which touches on the use of twilight sleep during childbirth. I saw black and white pictures of women with ridiculous padded bandages wrapped around their heads, looking like Q-tips, and I knew I would write about it. Women were strapped down in the delivery room to prevent them from flailing and injuring themselves or the nurses in the state of panic the drugs could induce. Sometimes, they were buckled into straight jackets.

We look back at these pictures now and think how horrible it was, how these women were abused, but it’s important to remember that women were demanding “painless babies” as a feminist right, just at the time they were also demanding the equal right to vote. Of course, women might not have signed up for twilight sleep in droves if they were fully aware of—or could remember—the way they were treated in the delivery room. But it was the best medicine had to offer at the time. The fact that we no longer use twilight sleep (and instead use the far more humane epidural) has as much to do with advances in medicine as it does advances in feminism.

The first poem I wrote for Paper Doll Fetus was “The Lamb’s-Wool Strap Speaks from the Gurney, 1915,” and it is spoken in the voice of a strap that was used to restrain a woman during a twilight sleep birth. The strap, having once been a lamb, remembers the unimpeded birth of lambs in its previous life and how the newborn lambs were free to bond immediately with their mothers. By contrast, the woman who gave birth in the amnesiac state induced by the drugs was made to forget the birth experience. The baby, when it was suddenly presented to her as much as a day or two later, was a surprise. In the poem, the mother asks, “Is it mine?” This is what troubled me the most—not that childbirth should be natural, but that the early moments of bonding were stripped away.

At first I had big plans for this topic, but in the end, I wrote only two poems about twilight sleep. The rest of the book is about many other miraculous and terrifying experiences of birth and medicine over the past several hundred years.

I hope that readers will take away from the book an appreciation of the tenuousness of life’s early beginnings. So many things can and have gone wrong. Babies are born with their legs fused, women die from ruptured ectopic pregnancies, fetuses are wrapped in calcium and turned to stone inside their mother’s bodies. But somehow, through a series of miracles, the rest of us are born and survive.

SM: Do you feel as if motherhood has strongly reinforced your ideas about inclusive feminism? Has your experience changed any of your views? If so, in what ways?

CMH: When I think about the core basis of feminism—gender equality—I tend to primarily think about the ways that women have fought for equality in the workplace. In other words, the ways women have asserted themselves into spaces previously monopolized by men.

In turn, we’ve made some progress in inviting men into the realm of parenting, but mostly, there are so many ways in which the genders are not—and could not be—equal when it comes to raising children, especially when the children are very young. I imagine us feminist working mothers dragging our already heavily loaded bag of “woman’s work” responsibilities into the workplace and filling it up even more, so that sometimes we can hardly carry it.

We talk a lot about “having it all,” “finding balance,” “leaning in” (first, Sheryl Sandberg’s famous call to lean in to our careers, and then the backlash from inclusive feminists who argued for respect for mothers who choose to “lean in” to their children). I think all these interpretations of feminism can co-exist.

Somewhere along the way, I must have internalized the “having it all” ideal. I have a five-year old daughter and a full-time job at an engineering consulting firm. I also cultivate a rich creative life with publications, readings, and two poetry groups I meet with every few weeks. I’m glad I have all these things.

So does feminism include me any more or less since I have become a mother? I don’t think there has been a change; I don’t feel left out. But since having a child, I feel—or perhaps I’m just more aware of feeling—even more intensely pressured to succeed in the workplace, in the creative space, in the home, and in general to bite off more than I can chew. Is that feminism? Or just exhaustion?

I’m exhausted.

SM:  A significant amount of your work is deeply rooted in place, and you’ve done several interviews (especially this one at Devil’s Lake) where you address this phenomenon, especially in terms of your first book, Sightseer. Does place have a current role in your more recent writing? I’m specifically thinking of the poems that appeared in diode and how each one seems to be deeply grounded in spatial details and memory.

CMH: My first book, Sightseer, is overtly rooted in place because its very subject matter is place; the poems explore my relationship to places, and the complex history of those places, especially European places, as a tourist. But even when I’m not problematizing my relationship to place, I can’t escape its central role in my work. I think that comes from a basic desire to ground the reader. As a reader myself, I like to feel oriented, and that may mean physically oriented in the location of the poem (are we in a cathedral in Spain? are we inside a woman’s womb?) or conceptually oriented in the rhetorical argument the poem is making. A poem must take me somewhere, in terms of both its images and its ideas.

The more abstract or thought-centered a poem is, the more I find myself relying on imagery to keep that sense of groundedness. My current project is a series of prose poems about fears, obsessions, and fabrications of the mind. It’s very focused on the “what if,” and on the one hand, the poems could easily get lost in abstractions. But on the other hand, fears—although they exist only in the mind—are nonetheless intensely real, and therefore, my poems about them should be as well.

The poems that were published online in diode are part of this series and mostly focus on my childhood. And when I think about orienting readers in the experience of my childhood, I think of putting them in the forest behind my childhood house in Virginia. I think of walking them through the shady backyard of my childhood house in England. I start there, and then I build the argument on top.

I suppose, even though it’s been years since I wrote Sightseer, I’m still a bit of a tour guide.

SM: What advice would you offer to “new” writers, and what can we expect to see from you in the future?

CMH: Recently, I’ve been developing a series of interviews online at The Cloudy House with poets who write “project books”—full-length collections of poems based on a theme or structurally bound by an author-defined constraint. In other words, a book of poems about traveling or fetuses, or every poem must have 100 words, or every poem must be a letter. The more I look, the more project books I see being published. I’m particularly alert to the fact that this kind of writing is popular not only in the realm of established poets but also among young writers setting out to form their first manuscripts.

My advice to those writers would be to allow yourself the freedom to discover your own obsessions—don’t assume you already know what they are before you set out to write. Looking for ways to set limitations on your work, especially when you are still finding your voice, can sometimes be counterproductive to development. So, allow yourself the opportunity to experiment (even within a constraint, if you must have one). The best poems—and the best books—make discoveries along the way.

In the future, I hope you will see more of the prose poems I’ve been writing about fears and obsessions. In turning away from my usual process of writing heavily researched subject matter and instead turning inward to write something deeply personal, I’m making some discoveries of my own. Better than church. Better than therapy. I’m finding, perhaps for the first time, that poetry can be both particular to my personal experience and also resonant with others on a scale larger than my own life.

Or maybe I’m still trying to convince myself this is true (people will really want to read poems about the microcosm of my childhood?). Maybe I’m shy. I’m definitely shy. But still, I’m trying to write these poems that won’t let me not write them. And maybe that’s my advice to new writers and to myself: let’s try to be brave. Let’s try to write the things that require bravery (however big or small, personal or political) to write.


Cynthia Marie Hoffman is the author of Paper Doll Fetus (Persea Books, 2014) and Sightseer (Persea Books, 2011, winner of the Lexi Rudnitsky First Book Prize in Poetry), as well as the chapbook Her Human Costume (Gold Line Press, 2014). Hoffman is a former Diane Middlebrook Poetry Fellow at the Wisconsin Institute for Creative Writing, Director’s Guest at the Civitella Ranieri Foundation, and recipient of an Individual Artist Fellowship from the Wisconsin Arts Board. Her poems have appeared in Pleiades, Fence, Blackbird, diode, Mid-American Review, and elsewhere. She co-edits the online interview series on poetry project books, The Cloudy House ( Visit Cynthia online at

Interview: Ariana D. Den Bleyker on ELJ Publications, Poetry, Emerging Writers, & Mental Illness Awareness

Nicole Rollender: You founded your own press, ELJ Publications, so you could focus on publishing collections and chapbooks of poetry and fiction from new and emerging writers. Can you tell us about the history of the press? What kind of poetry and fiction do you publish, and as an editor, what do you look for in a manuscript or collection?

Ariana D. Den Bleyker: We aim to be a press for every writer. We offer two journals, one specializing in the work of emerging writers and the other specializing in edgy material, several serials/series focusing on different themes and genres, four contests, and a broad range of single author titles filled with manuscripts ranging from mini-collections (chapbooks) to full collections to novellas – anything a writer can dream and write, we want to read and have a chance to publish. ELJ looks for a work that speaks to us on a personal level, work that begs us for its attention like a little child pulling on our sleeves. It has to be tight and thematic with a definite arc. It has to be powerful.

Emerge Literary Journal was founded to provide new and emerging writers foundations for their work, their words. When I founded the journal in 2011, I thirsted for outstanding, fresh writing from never before published voices and other emerging writers with some publications under their belt with a few established writers in between because I, too, was a new writer. It’s fair to say it’s hard to get published if you’ve never been published before. That’s why this Henry David Thoreau quote resonated with me: “If you have built castles in the air, your work need not be lost; that is where they should be. Now put the foundations under them.”

So, always having been a fan of Thoreau, I knew if I had a lot of castles, other beginning writers must too, and I wanted to establish a journal that would be the foundation, perhaps the first credit, that could get a writer (at the time) started in their publishing careers. I wanted to make a difference for new writers. In 2013, I carried that sentiment over to the press’ first chapbook contest, and the press was born from there.

NR: The chapbooks and books you publish are beautiful. Tell us about the production process – the paper, the cover art, the fonts, what makes them special.

ADB: As a reader, I want to hold something in my hands that’s as beautiful as the words inside it. One of the reasons ELJ moved away from print-on-demand was to control the quality of the book more. We only publish on 60 lb. paper (cream for our single author titles and opaque for our journals) and 100 lb. glossy laminate cardstock. This combination, though more expensive to produce, gives a more polished final product. I orchestrate all parts of the production process from cover design to interior formatting, where Garamond is the press font of choice. I’m very particular about the aesthetic of all books ELJ produces.

NR: Under the ELJ umbrella, you have two print publications: Emerge Literary Journal, which you talked about, and scissors & spackle, to showcase experimental and edgy writers, which you took over from another editor. How do these publications add to ELJ’s mission?

ADB: ELJ Publications and all its publications stand firm on a belief in words themselves, what they have to say to the reader, and to the world. Scissors & spackle was founded on the belief that words have the ability to both cut and repair at the same time. Whether we start a journal or acquire one, it’s the press’ goal to round out ELJ Publications where we can. We want to be the press with something for everyone. So, whether you’re a new writer, an experimental or edgy writer, whether you specialize in poetry or prose, we want to host a special place for you to showcase your work. ELJ Publications is also now home to Amethyst Arsenic, founded in 2011, an online poetry journal and paying market.

NR: You also recently started The J.J. Outré Reviewan online publication publishing fiction that mixes traditional genres and subgenres like slipstream, new weird, neo-noir, new wave fabulist in the style of Cat Rambo, Rae Bryant and others. What excites you about this publication and the submissions you’re getting?

ADB: This journal really excites me. My father is J.J. Outre, the journal’s main editor. He’s well read in pulp fiction and enjoys genre writing, as do I. What really drew me to start this journal was my own experience. I recently published a new wave fabulist novelette, Finger : Knuckle : Palm with LucidPlay Publishing. When submitting the manuscript, it was hard for me to find a home for it. The toughest part about writing something experimental that doesn’t fit an exact genre is getting it published, especially when the prose is more grounded in the literary. Genre fiction, for me, is really more formulated and less literary.

When I started the journal, I wanted to bend and mix traditional genres and subgenres. I wanted genre stories with heavy literary undertones, a clear concern for the language itself and not just formulaic plot and characters. At J.J., we’re looking for stories that exceed expectations, and surprise the reader in both context and form. We want experimental genre, weird, something nebulous, something gritty, insecure, radical. We’re hungry for surprising poetic prose, prose that leads to unknown wonders. Volume I, Issue I went live with a favorable response. We receive numerous submissions a day, but J.J. salivates for the ones that leave us thirsty for more.

NR: You run four annual contests for emerging writers, including The ELJ Mini-Collection Competition for emerging writers and The We Will Plan Big Things Prize for a debut full-length collection. Your Pioneer Prize is a chapbook poetry prize just for English major undergraduates or graduate students. What’s one of the manuscripts that you selected that made the most impact on you as an editor?

ADB: Even though I never personally judge any of the contests, I do take part in selecting the finalists to send to the judge. The one manuscript that has made the most impact on me is Opening the Doors of the Temple by Annalee Vileen Kwochka. It won the very first Pioneer Prize. It’s a story about the poet’s experience with dermatillomania, which is compulsive skin picking. It’s a very powerful exploration of the disorder and one of the many reasons I founded our Esperanza Editions series.

NR: ELJ Publications created the Esperanza Editions book series to facilitate mental health awareness. You also publish the annual Wood Becomes Bone collection, which publishes five micro-chapbooks from contributors about their experience with mental illness. How did you get involved with these projects and what role do these projects have in our literary community?

ADB: It’s no secret I’m bipolar and a lot of what I write about embraces that diagnosis, particularly Finger : Knuckle : Palm and prosthesis. I think it’s hard for writers to write about their own experiences with mental illness, let alone share it with the world. But, the stigma surrounding mental illness must be eliminated. ELJ Publications admires writers willing to tackle this theme through art, to share their stories with the world. We’re looking to remove the stigma of mental illness with powerful words of experience. We’re looking to write away the stigma one word at a time.

NR: You’re the author of three poetry collections, including Wayward Lines, numerous poetry chapbooks, the novelette, Finger: Knuckle: Palm, and the experimental memoir, prosthesis. What are you working on now, and how does feminism (explicitly or inexplicitly) factor into your writing?

ADB: Though the press dominates most of my time these days, and I do sleep and spend time with my family once in a while, I’ve managed to write quite a bit over the past year. I recently finished writing two crime novellas: Dark Water (Number Thirteen Press (UK), 2015) and Hollowed Out, which is currently seeking a home.

This past summer I finished a chapbook-length response poem honoring Emily Dickinson speaking to hope and fear. The hope portion, Strangest Sea, is available from Porkbelly Press; the fear portion, Knee Deep in Bone, is making the rounds. In the chapbooks, the narrator personifies hope and fear in hopes of coming to terms with her own dealings with these emotions, giving her a voice in an increasingly tumultuous world.

I also recently finished two new shorter chapbooks, The Peace of Wild Things (forthcoming from Porkbelly Press, 2015) and Beautiful Wreckage (forthcoming from Flutter Press, 2015), both centering on my experience with bipolar disorder or the constant give and take of mania and depression.

I’m a woman, so feminine experience is always explicitly or inexplicitly factored into all of my work, though I’d say the majority of my work has been therapeutic in the sense that it’s how I play out my own life experiences and survive my own mental illness.


Ariana D. Den Bleyker is a Pittsburgh native, currently residing in a small town in New York where she’s a wife and mother of two. She’s the author of three collections, including Wayward Lines (RAWArT Press, 2015), the chapbooks Forgetting Aesop (Bandini Books, 2011), Naked Animal (Flutter Press, 2012), My Father Had a Daughter (Alabaster Leaves Publishing, 2013), Hatched from Bone (Flutter Press, 2014), On Coming of Age and Stitches (Origami Poems Project, 2014), Strangest Sea (Porkbelly Press, 2015), Beautiful Wreckage (Flutter Press, 2015), The Peace of Wild Things (Porkbelly Press, 2015), and Birds Never Sing in Caves (Dancing Girl Press, 2015), the novelette Finger : Knuckle : Palm (LucidPlay Publishing, 2014), an experimental memoir, prosthesis (Lummox Press, 2014 print) and (Zoetic Press, electronic) and Dark Water (Number Thirteen Press, 2015). She is the founder of ELJ Publications LLC, a small press with big things to offer, home of Emerge Literary Journal, scissors & spackle, The J.J. Outre Review, Amethyst Arsenic, Wild Horses, Turn : Turn : Turn and Wood Becomes Bone. Visit her online at

Nicole Rollender is assistant poetry editor of Minerva Rising Literary Journal and editor of Stitches. Her work has appeared or is forthcoming in Alaska Quarterly Review, Best New Poets, Harpur Palate, Salt Hill Journal, The Journal, THRUSH Poetry Journal and West Branch, among others. Her full-length poetry collection, Louder Than Everything You Love, is forthcoming from ELJ Publications. She’s the author of the poetry chapbooks Absence of Stars (dancing girl press, August 2015), Arrangement of Desire (Pudding House Publications) and Bone of My Bone, a winning manuscript in Blood Pudding Press’s 2015 Chapbook Contest.  She’s the recipient of poetry prizes from CALYX Journal, Princemere Journal and Ruminate Magazine. She earned her MFA in poetry at the Pennsylvania State University.  Find her here:

New Leaves Writers’ Conference: Chapbook Panel

This week, our co-editor M. Mack will be discussing GGP (and publishing hir own work) during a panel at the New Leaves Writers’ Conference, held on the George Mason University campus in Fairfax, VA. We’d love to see you, if you’re in the area!

Event Description:
Friday, April 17th
Traditionally, chapbooks have been a part of poetry publishing for some time, but recently chapbooks have become more popular with fiction and nonfiction as well. Mason alums who have all published in this form talk about how to use chapbooks to get your work out there, read, and followed. The panel includes Kirsten Clodfelter, M. Mack, Lucy Biederman, Danielle Badra, Nicole Tong, Elizabeth Deanna Lakes Morris, and Sarah Winn. Location: Robinson A 447
Read more about other New Leaves events here.


Get a little taste of our AWP bookfair offerings below, then come see us Thurs.-Sat. at the George Mason University booth, #1308 and 1306, where we will feed you candy hearts that say, “you do you.” Or you can feed them to yourself while you read a portfolio of beautiful miniatures by our amazing authors. We’re flexible.


Gazing Grain Press AWP Events

If you’re attending AWP 2015 in beautiful Minneapolis, we hope to see you around!

We’ll be located at the bookfair in the George Mason University booth, #1308 and 1306. We’ll have miniatures, feminist candy hearts, and the coolest poetry business cards you’ve ever seen. In addition to new miniatures from Kevin McLellan and Tanya Paperny, we are launching limited-edition expanded collections of our miniatures series from 2012 (previously out of print) and 2013.

Please join us at the bookfair for signings by Meg Day, Kevin McLellan, and Sandy Longhorn, and make sure to check out our first-ever AWP off-site event, in  collaboration with three other amazing feminist publishers!



2:30-3:30 p.m.: Sandy Longhorn signs The Girlhood Book of Prairie Myths (Jacar Press) and her GGP miniature, an excerpt from the book

1:30-2:30 p.m.: Kevin McLellan signs his GGP miniature

6-8 p.m.: Weird Atlas/Gazing Switchback feminist poetry reading at the Crooked Pint Ale House, 501 Washington Ave. S, featuring readers from Weird Sister, The Atlas Review, Switchback Books, and, of course, GGP. Readers will include Meg Day, Natalie Eilbert, Marisa Crawford, Cathy de la Cruz, Lillian-Yvonne Bertram, Soleil Ho, Anne Cecelia Holmes, Jenn Marie Nunes, and Morgan Parker.


2-3 p.m.: Meg Day signs GGP 2013 title We Can’t Read This



11 a.m.-Noon: Kevin McLellan signs at the Barrow Street booth (1108)

12-1 p.m. Meg Day signs Last Psalm at Sea Level at the Barrow Street booth (1108)

7-9 p.m.: Sandy Longhorn reads at a Triohouse off-site event, The Wesley. 101 E. Grant

7-9 p.m.: Kevin McLellan reads off-site at the “S&Q2″ event, located at Barnes & Noble, 801 Nicollet Mall


4-6 p.m.: Kevin McLellan reads at Barrow Street’s off-site event, located at Gamut Gallery, 1006 Marquette Avenue

7 p.m.: Meg Day reads at an off-site event with Malachi Black, Susannah Nevison, and Sarah Eliza Johnson (details TBA)


Noon-2 p.m.: Sandy Longhorn signs her latest book, The Alchemy of My Mortal Form at the Trio House table (240)

7-10 p.m.: Natalie Eilbert reads at “Saturday Night in Minneapolis: Coconut + Bloof at AWP 2015,” located in Mason’s Restaurant Barre, 528 Hennepin Ave. S