TOPANGA MESSENGER -- December 12, 2002

"Venice Reading Celebrates Lower Topanga"

Article and photos by Dan Mazur

On Sunday evening, December 1, the creative spirit of the Rodeo Grounds came to life in a small, dark room in Venice. "Lost Lives: the Poetry of Lower Topanga Canyon," a reading held at the Rose Alley Theatre, was organized by Pablo Capra, featuring poetry from the book he recently edited, Idlers of the Bamboo Grove, as well as music and visual art by Lower Topanga residents.

As in the book, themes of home, community and loss were central, as the Lower Topanga enclave faces erasure to make way for the expansion of Topanga State Park. These shared issues gave focus and coherence to the work. The nine writers' poems flowed together into a unified wholeƑfrom Bond Johnson's tender concerns for his soon-to-be-displaced horse, to Catherine Holliss' love affair metaphor for facing the loss of her Canyon home, and Pablo Capra's yearnings for transcendence and inspiration in his boyhood surroundings. The audience, packed into the small space, was in tune with these feelings, laughing knowingly as Capra reeled off his reminiscences of dozens of past and current neighbors in "Rodeo Grounds Poem."

Other poets included Robert Campbell, Michele Capra, David Hayward, James Mathers and Daisy Duck McCracken. Frank Lamonea played guitar and sang. Hayward graced us with his accomplished jazz trumpet, and Johnson played classical piano. A constant visual accompaniment was provided by Lower Topanga "performance painter" Norton Wisdom, interpreting the words and sounds in constantly evolving images, and Mathers' paintings from the book were on display. The reading began and ended with a slide show of Topanga photographer David Blattel's pictures of Lower Topanga.

Through its various media, the two-hour event presented a vivid portrait of a unique place and its inhabitants. Certainly more personal than political, it was nonetheless a reminder that the otherwise-laudable goals of environmentalism can sometimes conflict with human values of home and community.

THE MALIBU TIMES -- December 5, 2002

Photo by Cathy Nieman

LOS ANGELES TIMES -- December 1, 2002

"Hope for a Community in a Few Lines of Verse "

By Scott Timberg
Artwork by Norton Wisdom

Poetry, W.H. Auden famously said, "makes nothing happen." Can it keep a bunch of hippies from being evicted from their canyon hideaways? Whether verse can stop the bulldozers ... well, you can't blame the Lower Topanga Community Assn. for trying.

Today they're staging "Lost Lives," a concert, poetry reading and appearance by "performance painter" Norton Wisdom, to protest the uprooting of residents from their homes and the likely closing of restaurants and shops along Pacific Coast Highway.

"This little community is such a utopia," says Will Willoughby, Topanga resident and organizer. "It's a throwback to the '60s -- the people really look out for each other. They're writers, they're artists."

But not for long. Say goodbye to those groovy homes and funky shops like Malibu Feed Bin and Ginger Snips Salon and Spa. "We'll probably end up becoming a Gray Davis Visitors Center," he says, conjuring up the image of tourists relieving themselves on a site that once made up the Reel Inn's picnic tables.

Last year, the Los Angeles Athletic Club sold a patch of land -- 1,659 acres from the Pacific Coast Highway to Topanga Canyon Park -- to the California Department of Parks and Recreation. Residents received a letter from the deal's broker saying they'd have to clear out by Dec. 12 or be evicted. That day's getting close.

The parks department, though, says it's acquiring the land for pretty, uh, utopian reasons. "Mostly, it's to turn it back to nature," spokesman Roy Sterns says. "We'll be restoring the creek, rehabilitating the fish runs, bringing back native plants. No plans, he says, for a visitors center or commercial development, though some of the homes will be converted into park offices. So which side really wants to get back to the garden?

Either way, "Lost Lives" kicks off at 4 p.m. at the Rose Alley Theater, 318 Lincoln Blvd. in Venice. Admission is $5. For information, call (323) 650-3013.

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