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Literary Spring

[whitespace] The Monserrat Review Garden of the Soul: The Spring issue of 'The Monserrat Review' features a floral cover by Eve Page Mathias.

A new South Bay literary magazine puts local and Bay Area writers on the same page with national names

By Traci Hukill

IF THE LITERARY COMMUNITY in these parts had to send a representative to a national poetry convention, its members just might pick Gary Young. He carries something essential about our region in his easy walk and speech: a casual directness and a willingness to laugh.

Young--printer, teacher and author of three books of poetry--is a contributor to The Montserrat Review. Although it is based in San Jose (publishers Albert and Cynthia Lowe live in Willow Glen), the semiannual journal, which makes its debut this month, is nationally oriented.

"There's never been a West Coast magazine of any import," Young notes. "[San Francisco's] ZYZZYVA has been publishing for 10 years, which makes it long-lived as a literary magazine, but it publishes mostly West Coast writers, which feeds that regionalist bent a little."

Although The Montserrat Review draws heavily on Bay Area writers--a little more than half the contributors reside in San Francisco, the South Bay or Santa Cruz--the first issue speaks in decidedly national, even international, tones. Works by Tom McKeown, Marge Piercy, Michael Spence and writers scattered from New York to New Mexico rub shoulders with translations of Argentinian poet Julio Cortazar and Mauritian Malcolm de Chazal.

The local contingent likewise presents a wide range of experience. Jane Pray Silver runs her own multimedia company in Silicon Valley. Len Anderson, poet and physicist, lives in San Jose along with associate editor Robert Pesich and a handful of other contributors. Morton Marcus teaches writing at Cabrillo College in Aptos.

The first issue is dedicated to world-renowned poet Denise Levertov. Her poem "The Mètier of Blossoming" arrived in editor Cynthia Lowe's mailbox in early September, just three months before the celebrated poet's death. "She was my favorite," says Lowe. "I was just so excited to have her in the magazine. Then she died just a few months later, and we said, 'Let's dedicate it to her.' "

Death haunts the first half of the review. Many of the poems drift through ghostly houses, suicide scenes and late-night hospital dramas. From there they take a spiritual turn, then dip to nature and the sensual stuff of life. Asked if she organized the magazine this way on purpose, Lowe drops her voice to a note of wonder.

"I sat down and reread it recently, and I realized that as an editor there are certain life experiences that cause you to filter through certain materials," she says. "I've been touched by death myself in the last couple of years, and I realized I resonate with the fragility of life and loss. And," she laughs, "I was amazed at how much baseball imagery came through!"

Lowe calls poetry "a religion, a way of conveying the spiritual in what can be a barren landscape, especially in Silicon Valley." If her New Age accent offends some patrician ears, maybe it can be excused: Some poets can't help but wax poetic on the subject of poetry.

As The Montserrat Review, which takes its title from a monastery outside Barcelona, makes the rounds of publication parties, Lowe finds herself awash in anticipation. "I liken it to being a midwife," she muses, "and this is a child I've helped give birth to. I want to count its fingers and toes and be sure it has a healthy glow."

It appears that she has little to worry about. Given the dearth of local literary magazines and the hunger for what she's offering, Cynthia Lowe's glowing brainchild looks like one of the brightest lights on the West Coast.

The Montserrat Review celebrates its debut with a reading featuring its Bay Area contributors on Sunday (March 15) at 7pm at Printer's Inc., 310 Castro St., Mountain View. Free. (408/295-2805) Individual copies are $8; subscriptions are $16; Dragonfly Press, P.O. Box 8297, San Jose 95155-9998.

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From the March 12-18, 1998 issue of Metro.

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