By Susan Brandzel
The Arava is a desert valley in Israel where agricultural efforts are cultivating an amazing amalgam of crops in the arid landscape. Half a world away, based right here on green Bainbridge Island,The Arava Review is an electronic oasis of creativity where artists and writers are likewise given a chance to flourish. Founded by poet Tova Gannana while she was living in the Arava, this online poetry and arts collective spotlights artists whom Gannana and her art editor, Liz Pleasant, find compelling and worthy of being publicized. The driving force behind the site is simply to get good work out in front of people.
Gannana comes from a family of artists. It was never a matter of whether she would be one herself, it was just a matter of what kind. Seven years ago, Gannana followed in her sister’s footsteps to the Vermont Studio Center, where she had the great fortune of being taught by world-renowned poets, including the celebrated feminist poet Marge Piercy. It was that experience in Vermont that made her realize that her artistic calling was in writing, specifically in poetry. “The reason I started writing is just to be part of the conversation,” Gannana said. “It’s just so much fun to be doing anything about art that’s engaging.” Her most recent contribution to the literary conversation was the publication of her poem “Rabin” in the Israeli newspaper Haaretz.
Pleasant, who grew up in Seattle, came to the project on a different path. Having finished her degree in cultural anthropology at the University of Washington, Pleasant was chosen to be an intern for Bainbridge’s popular global action publication, Yes! magazine. Since the program was residential, Pleasant moved here. In order to make ends meet, she got a job at the The Pub. Gannana, who needed to help support her family—not the easiest thing to do as a poet—also had a job at The Pub. The two became fast friends and almost immediately discovered they were both profoundly moved by and magnetically drawn to art. Pleasant could write and edit; Gannana had inroads into many avenues of the art world. So Gannana asked Pleasant to join her. For each quarterly issue,
Gannana and Pleasant select art and poetry, curating a relationship between what is visual and what is spoken. In addition to the writing and photography,they endeavored into film last year, creating a small film festival that highlighted works featuring complex female characters. The screening event, called “Girls of Summer,” was a different version of The Arava Review—an experiential one. It was held at the Varsity Theater in Seattle, in order to draw wider audiences, but was sponsored by two generous Bainbridge-based backers. The five-week event showcased five films, each introduced by Gannana or Pleasant. The festival was a great success and they plan to reprise it in 2016. They also may do something similar during the winter months here on the island.
While almost every business on the planet is either already online or seeking a way to get there, The Arava Review may be moving to paper form in the future, though it will likely maintain an online presence. By adding print, Gannana and Pleasant feel the content will be even more accessible and tangible to readers. They want people to share and experience it together. This choice reflects the organic roots and intentions of The Arava Review: keep it simple, but make it meaningful. This publication is not about gloss or publicity; it is about substance, just like its founders.