TOPANGA MESSENGER -- November 28, 2002

"'Idlers,' a Portrait of Lower Topanga"

By Dan Mazur
Photo by Katie Dalsemer

Arguments for Lower Topanga's status as the last outpost of a vanishing hippie-bohemian-surfer lifestyle seem to have fallen on deaf ears at State Parks and other government agencies. Now a group of Lower Topangans have gotten together to put the evidence down in black and white.

Idlers of the Bamboo Grove: Poetry From Lower Topanga Canyon was published in October by Pablo Capra's Brass Tacks Press. The 62-page booklet includes the work of Capra and eight other writers from the area, as well as illustrations by Lower Topanga artist James Mathers who provides portraits of each contributor.

Capra, who has lived for 22 of his 23 years in the Rodeo Grounds in Lower Topanga, has been in the thick of the battle to save the unique community in which he grew up. For some time he and fellow poets David Hayward and Catherine Holliss have been sharing their work with each other. Finding the experience of facing mass eviction was becoming a theme in their writing, Capra decided to put together the book, and was happy to find six others who had work to contribute as well. The title was inspired by Li Po, an eighth century Chinese poet who formed a group of six poets called the "Idlers of the Bamboo Grove."

"The poems reflect what people are experiencing and feeling," says Capra. "It's an artists' community, so it reflects how people are making art out of this experience. They have a lot of strong things to say that they don't get considered by the state."

Besides Capra, Hayward and Holliss, there are poems by Robert Campbell, Michele Capra, Bond Johnson, Frank Lamonea and Daisy Duck McCracken. A short introduction by Pablo describes the history and predicament of Lower Topanga.

Love of nature and loss of home are the major themes running through all the poems, including Capra's own "Rodeo Grounds Poem." Now ecstatic, now despairing, Capra's paean to his boyhood home is full of youthful nostalgia and creative longings and features an apparently comprehensive list of all the Lower Topanga residents, with a brief characterization of each.

David Hayward expresses the anger of the residents facing loss of community at the hands of environmentalists in the opening lines of "A Rout of Squatters."

The Eco-Fascist will always oust
a verse dreamer, a phrase blower
the dreamer caught gazing thru
a sun-faded mandala
stuck on an eighty year old
windowpane forty years ago...

The grievance process for the Lower Topangans fighting relocation is underway. Capra says he doesn't see the book as a weapon in the battle, but as a tribute to the community that is at stake.

"I don't have a lot of expectation for what it can change," he says, "but I think it stands as a legacy for what this place is, and, if it goes down, what this place was. I think it's really worth remembering."

As Catherine Holliss writes wistfully in "Maybe When,"

...and when
State Parks flattens the home
the hikers will pause at the foundation
and maybe wonder who lived here
and what were their names and
dreams and deepest secrets
where are they now do they
still have a community...

Idlers of the Bamboo Grove is available for $5 at the Howell-Green Gallery, as well as at Dutton's Books in Brentwood and Vidiots in Santa Monica. There will be a reading of works in the book at the Rose Alley Theater, 318 Lincoln Boulevard in Venice at 4 p.m. on Sunday, December 1. Admission $5.

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