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 wholeÑfrom 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.