Exclusive Cover Reveal of Cynthia Marie Hoffman’s “Exploding Head”

The author and the designer discuss the process behind creating the book cover

Electric Literature is pleased to reveal the cover for Cynthia Marie Hoffmans poetry collection, Exploding Head, which will be published by Persea Books in February 2024. Preorder the book here.

Cynthia Marie Hoffman’s vivid memoir-in-prose-poems, Exploding Head, chronicles a woman’s childhood onset and adult journey through obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD), which manifests in fearful obsessions and counting compulsions that impact her relationship to motherhood, religion, and the larger world. Cynthia Marie Hoffman’s unsettling, image-rich poems chart the interior landscape of the obsessive mind. Along with an angel who haunts the poems’ speaker throughout her life, she navigates her fear of guns and accidents, fears for the safety of her child, and reckons with her own mortality, ultimately finding a path toward peace.

Here is the cover, designed by Dinah Fried.

Poet Cynthia Marie Hoffman: “The poems in Exploding Head are the most personal, raw, and vulnerable I’ve ever written. I knew I wanted a face on the cover of the book to kick-start the human connection I’m reaching toward in telling what has been, until recently, a very private, decades-long struggle with OCD. 

Any person pictured on the cover of a book risks being interpreted as a representative stand-in for the main character, so it was important to find a female figure I could see myself in. I had to believe this figure had something unsettling churning behind her eyes. 

I searched online for months. The images that appealed to me were troubling and sometimes off-putting, and when one such image sparked intensely visceral but opposite reactions in two of my trusted friends, I realized outside opinions were disrupting my ability to trust my own vision. 

My Pinterest board filled up with surreal images of women whose heads were dissolving into blurs, streaks of color as if the wind had swept their thoughts away in a tangle of threads, or the tops of their skulls entirely disappeared. These images depicted how I felt when OCD ran off with my thoughts, what OCD has taken away. 

Artist Sandra Boskamp is gifted in obscured portraiture. Her series have names like ‘Glitch,’ ‘Mindscapes,’ and ‘Undulating Figures.’ One image in her ‘Reclaimed by Nature’ series depicts a family of woodpeckers living in the holes they’ve pecked into a woman’s face and neck. Of course, Gabriel Fried, poetry editor at Persea Books, pointed out what I already knew: that spot-on violence was a step too far. 

But Boskamp’s portrait ‘Rachel’ is the perfect combination of stability and disruption. The woman’s lips are parted, her posture upright as if she were simply sitting on a stool in the painter’s studio, posing for this portrait. Meanwhile, the top of her head is quite literally swirling into flame. There is violence in the reds and oranges. But there is also something so delicate, so masterful in the movement of that swirling flame. I am enticed by its beauty, by the woman’s ruddy complexion, by the way the negative space leads my gaze across the page from left to right, as if inviting me to open the book to my words waiting inside. Persea’s designer Dinah Fried created a masterful design, and her placement of the title Exploding Head in big, attention-grabbing letters complements the art without competing.”

Cover designer Dinah Fried of Small Stuff: “In most cases we resist the urge for a cover image to ‘say’ the same thing as the title itself, but in the case of this cover for Cynthia Marie Hoffman’s poetry collection, we embraced the repetition of title and image as a nod to the subject-matter. Together, the prominent title typography Exploding Head atop the painted portrait of a literal Exploding Head—expressed in this painting by Sandra Boskamp with swirling warm hues creeping off the top of the pagegesture at the relentlessness of the poet’s struggle with OCD throughout her life.”

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