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Bomb Magazine - Summer 2011

  • Issue Number: Number 116
  • Published Date: Summer 2011
  • Publication Cycle: Biannual

MoMA advertises in Bomb. To be more specific, MoMA advertises on the entire back cover of Bomb. I noticed it immediately, and it wired my expectations for what I would find inside. MoMA doesn’t advertise in just any magazine.

If in response to the above, you asked, “What’s MoMA?” I would answer, “Bomb isn’t for you.” To be honest, Bomb isn’t for me. That’s not a slight against the magazine, not by a long shot. It’s also not meant to be a slight to mine or anyone’s intelligence. Bomb’s readers aren’t necessarily more intelligent than the readers of other magazines, though there’s no doubting that they are intelligent. The readers of Bomb—I’m speculating a bit here—have refined taste and a very nuanced interest in the arts, especially the artists, writers, musicians, filmmakers, and other people behind the arts.

One of my favorite extended conversations was between the late mythologist Joseph Campbell and Michael Toms of New Dimensions Radio. It was a remarkable interview. Of course, Campbell was phenomenal… that’s a given. Interestingly—and as should be—Toms offered a great deal to the dialogue as well. Throughout their lengthy conversation, Toms brought insights to the table that allowed Campbell to expand on his own thoughts in directions that he may not have otherwise.

Interviewing is truly an art form. At its best it becomes genuine conversation. Michael Toms, perhaps intuitively, understood the craft. In the same spirit, the editors of Bomb, through their careful pairing of interviewer and interviewee, lay bare their desire to orchestrate an artful conversation, and not simply have a standard Q&A.

The conversations in Bomb are art. Period.

Mickalene Thomas talks with Sean Landers, a former teacher of hers at the Yale University School of Art. How brilliant of Bomb to bring together a cutting-edge painter/visual artist with her professor from a decade before, a successful artist in his own right. The talk is layered, sometimes challenging, but always honest.

Then there is the conversation between harpist Joanna Newsom and fellow musician Roy Harper. Because Newsom admires Harper as much as he does her, she often turns questions on him, and readers are left with the sense that they are getting two interviews for the price of one.

Additionally, Tin House’s Rob Spillman interviews Kenyan writer Binyavanga Wainaina. I try to imagine interviewing Wainaina, and I can almost hear myself asking, “So, wow, that’s quite a name. What’s that like?” I simply don’t have the background knowledge to enter the conversation. Here, instead, is one of Spillman’s informed questions: “So when you write, do you make a conscious decision to ever use Sheng or Kiswahili or anything outside of English? Language is so important to you, and there are so many different language influences on you, how do you decide what to use?”

Bomb isn’t only about interviews. There are erudite reviews of books, films, art exhibits, artists, and experimental plays. Plus, the magazine includes the First Proof department, which is Bomb’s literary supplement. Fiction and poetry… all of it skillful, and some of it stunning and absolutely necessary. Elissa Schappell’s short story “Monsters of the Deep,” a tale of two misfit high school students, still haunts me to the point that I feel their scars are my scars. The issue’s poetry offers alternative definitions of what poetry can be, and I mean that absolutely as a compliment.

I’m glad Bomb exists. It’s the kind of thing that makes me doubt that America is as culturally bankrupt as television would lead me to believe. Bomb’s readers are highly educated. They are also arts-minded as well as arts activists. To call them curious would be an understatement. Better to call them hungry for more. They want more than the artwork or the artist’s biography. They want something personal, particular and passionate. They want the artistry of the perfect interview, which is what Bomb delivers.

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Review Posted on August 29, 2011

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