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DOGS IN TOPANGA!  by Jane Marla  Robbins



by Jane Marla Robbins

ISBN: 978-0-578-43442-1
Publisher: Shining Tree Press

A free-spirited California dog lover celebrates the joyful, healing presence of canine soul mates in 38 affectionate poems.

Robbins’ (Poems of the Laughing Buddha, 2015, etc.) verses depict the delight that a slobbering, grinning, tail-wagging mutt can bring into a person’s life—even while shredding car upholstery and leaving tooth and claw marks everywhere. The title poem is a concise introduction to the seductive contradictions of “These spirits, these fakers, / adventurers out to filch / a bone” who “can charm you to death with their / playfulness, coyness, flirting, / their wisdom.” Some of the works that follow, in four chronologically arranged sections, are portraits of individual dogs, such as Pele, aka “Mr. Mudmouth, Slime Face, Saliva Head,” who’s “silly and magnificent.” Others present a deeper homage to a special companion dog, a “little ragamuffin” named Camella who injured her spine in a fall but later walked again. “Guitarist” uses animal metaphors to describe a flirty man, initially scolding him as “O that dog!” but eventually calling him a “pussycat.” Other verses touch on the celebrity-tinged counterculture of Southern California’s Topanga Canyon; “At Café Mimosa,” for instance, casually name-drops that “I’m at a table…with Daithi, an acupuncturist from Ireland / who used to tour with the Beatles.” Throughout the collection, the author skillfully evokes various dogs’ personalities, and her enjoyment of their virtues and foibles is childlike and visceral. The short poem “Dancer” is a marvel of economic imagery in such lines as “he fluffies toward me, his / laugh face breathing words.” However, in “Lynn Redgrave, 1943-2010,” Robbins extols the late actor for ignoring park rules to allow her dog to roam freely but without mentioning how the canines could possibly disturb wildlife and delicate ecosystems. However, the overall tone of the book is whimsical and warmhearted, perhaps best encapsulated in a line from “My Dog is Crazy”: “And still, like most of us, / I know my dog means well.”

A touching, poetic tribute to the irrepressible nature of man’s best friend and to a rapidly disappearing bohemian culture.