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Public emotions: Film-inspired new poetry offers a window into the conversation
Windows are the perfect surface, thought poet Tova Gannana of her new poetry series, “Day to Night.”
Titled “Studio” and “The City,” Gannana has two vinyl poems installed on the front windows of Danger art gallery on Winslow Way. They are the first of her new series, and this coming September she will have more displayed on the windows of Grace Episcopal Church in conjunction with a reading of her work.
Poetry is about being part of the conversation, she explained.
It goes beyond literature and film and says, “Oh, I want to write back to you.”
This is the idea she plans to bring to life in her window displays. For Gannana, it’s about making poetry public art and offering onlookers a chance to become part of the conversation too.
The name of her new series, “Day to Night,” is a film noir term. It means filming during the day but making it look like night.
In the days of black-and-white film, the cameraman kept the sun out of the shot to avoid spending on lighting for night scenes. It was a technique popularized by American cinema, and subsequently also carries the French name nuit américaine, “American night.”
Gannana’s poetry began absorbing her passion for film when she first moved to Bainbridge from Israel with her family in 2010. She passed a lot of time at their home nestled in the woods, watching black-and-white films.
And while her children were at school, the allure of the old-time dialogue flipped switches. She was drawn by the hard and often lonely tone of American cinema scripts. And she was enchanted by the somewhat miscalculated English translations of films in Italian, French and Hebrew. She took notes. She studied it.
“Film is an art,” Gannana said. “It’s a vision. You get to go into this world.”
So as her film collection grew, she created a database of movie lines that caught her breath.
In her series, “Day to Night,” she pieces together collections of movie lines into a collage with her own lines and words bridging the gaps. It goes beyond standard autobiographical poetry. And both, “Day to Night” and “American night” somehow fit the bill. At this stage in her public display, she uses the terms interchangeably.
Of course, before going too far, copyright concerns did occur to Gannana as she worked on “Day to Night.”
“I can see how this would be so misunderstood,” she explained.
Her research asked her two questions: “Are you in competition with your source?” and “Are you creating something new?”
“At the end of the day, that’s Tova’s,” she answered for herself. “It’s a fresh voice, version, vision.”
“It’s like a mini movie,” she continued. “I don’t want to create another film essay about what I thought. I want to continue the conversation.”
At first glance, it’s difficult to pinpoint a common subject that strings the lines together. But on closer examination, each poem tugs at an identifiable and relatable emotion.
In fact, the subject of each poem is the emotion.
“I’ve created a world, and there’s these characters and places,” Gannana said. “But there’s one voice.”
There’s this one, singular voice speaking to human emotion.
While living in Israel, Gannana made two trips back to the U.S., where she was born and raised, to attend the Vermont Studio Center as an international student. There, she studied under poets like Kevin Young, and learned two memorable things:
“It’s always language over context,” she recalled, “and ‘a great poem brings the personal to the world and the world to the personal.’”
Gannana hasn’t struggled in curving her brain to think bigger than her own life. She does not write about her family or her husband. She writes outside that, and to a place that is familiar to everyone.
“‘The City’ — I think that’s the poem I most love,” Gannana said.
Its lines, like “Without you the car would be just a car the rain just rain the firemen just men,” and translated from Hebrew, “I take these bodies with me,” are ones that Gannana admits contain her emotions. But it goes past her, to the sound and feeling.
“In this one there’s a lot of longing and loneliness,” she said. “At the end you just have to ask, ‘God, what are you longing for?’”
Danger is the first window space Gannana has done, and it is likewise the first to agree, but she hopes to eventually have her series extend to Seattle’s Pioneer Square.
“I’ve never done this type of display before,” Gannana said. “I’m not against graffiti, but this way I’m in cooperation with the store owner and the city. It just takes some forward thinking for store and gallery owners.”
Lena Davidson, a musician on the island, will be performing on the guitar at Danger for the First Friday Art Walk on June 7.
In between her set, Gannana will do a reading of four or five new poems from the series. Morgan Terry of the Bainbridge Island Radio Club will be hosting the event.
Gannana is the author of “Human Dust” (2012), which, in a collection of poems, she reflects on her experience as an Israeli-American. She is the poetry and art editor for The Arava Review, and she also writes poetry book reviews for The Rumpus.