Letter from the Editor by Betsy Sussler

BOMB 54 Winter 1996
Issue 54 054  Winter 1996

It’s always a welcome surprise when an issue reflects and reverberates similar concerns and preoccupations among its participants. It happens often enough for me to believe that ideas coalesce in the collective longing and understanding of the culture at large long before they’re acknowledged by the pundits and the press. People’s thoughts in fact, are to do with desire and run way ahead of what’s regarded as public opinion. It’s what’s lacking or submerged in a culture that is most often addressed—in this magazine, by its artists. As Lawrence Weiner would say, that’s our job. Almost every interview, poem and piece of fiction in this issue explores an overwhelming need to see life and death not in opposition to each other but as integral. It’s this acknowledgement of mortality that forms our compassion in life. Fear is less of death than of a life not lived, not appreciated, not realized as a gift, a responsibility and a grace. This includes the willingness to look at ourselves as complex and fallible. Mike Figgis talks of filmmaking as “a celebration of life, not a celebration of cowardice …” Lawrence Weiner responds, “You ask me where I want to be? I want to be engaged in my existence, now.” And Sharon Olds sums it up when she says: “I thought the rhythms of poetry had to do with the rhythms of intense feeling about the most moving mortal experiences: birth, love, sex, death, grief, rage, joy. I thought that every group of people who ever existed has had poetry because passionate human life cannot live without it.”

Life waits for us, meanders and falters, and takes us forward and back to places we never thought to go. So does the creative process. Patti Smith asks, “Do you start thinking something and then your mind takes it over and it’s not in a language that you can translate yet?” Yes. Making art, like living life, takes a leap of faith because most often we have to make that leap long before we understand what it means. All of those interviewed were very generous in describing how they create and what it takes to get there. Artist Barbara Bloom says of her thought process: “the pleasure is in the meandering, the thinking about it … .I never force myself to come to a conclusion … .I let my thoughts go, and over the years I’ve developed a way to recognize a truly interesting combination of thoughts and images.” And from playwright Adrienne Kennedy: “My mother would tell me things that had happened to her, her dreams, her past … .it’s like the monologues in my plays, her stories were loaded with imagery and tragedy, darkness and sarcasm and humor.” Life contains within it the seeds of its own destruction … .and its creation. That’s part and parcel of our longevity, our ability to change and transform. And it’s courage and honesty and humor that allow us to face both possiblities. Lawrence Weiner gets it right: There is no analogy I can make. Because it’s not foreplay, it’s the whole thing: the immediate tactile response. There’s nothing, nothing being held back. That’s all there is. And if that’s not enough, I have a problem with that… .”

—Betsy Sussler

Originally published in

BOMB 54, Winter 1996

Featuring interviews with Patti Smith, Peter Carey, Mike Figgis, Lawrence Weiner, Sharon Olds, Kiki Smith, Ridge Theater, Oliver Herring, Adrienne Kennedy, and Shu Lea Cheang.

Read the issue
Issue 54 054  Winter 1996