Listen closely to these poems’ quiet but insistent murmur. Lily Iona Mackenzie meditates on the textures of her California neighborhood as well as distant lands—Italy, Spain, Russia, Mali. Her poems lovingly embrace jazz, classical music, four paintings by Matisse, a grandfather’s voice, a 3-year-old niece. With concision and lucidity, she writes of birdnests destroyed by cutting nearby trees and how “Age cuts into us,” and she “leans on form and shape/ to arrive at an understanding of” desire, anxiety, time, the mysteries beneath the sea and, really, everywhere. Each poem offers surprising images and perceptions, and collectively they answer “The Artist’s Call”—to “capture these/ fleeting days/ on earth.” What a gorgeous book!
—Kathleen McClung, author of Temporary Kin and A Juror Must Fold in on Herself
What is art, and what happens to us when we see or make it? These questions animate Lily Iona MacKenzie’s California Dreaming. From ancient Egyptian artefacts to Richard Serra’s sculpture, from martial music on Red Square to Dvorak and Copeland via a scenic route that takes us on a multi-part journey through Matisse, MacKenzie shows us what she numbers among poetry’s true aesthetes. Even travel and family come to her first as forms of beauty. Beauty, though, never fully shelters us from a world of moral urgencies—injustice and violence hover just on the edges of these poems, reminding us that our sense of the beautiful is both fragile and essential.
—Robert Archambeau, Alice B. Toklas is Missing, Laureates and Heretics and Poetry and Uselessness, The Poet Resigns, Inventions of a Barbarous Age
Amazon reviews of California Dreaming:
Reviewed in the United States on October 6, 2023
California Dreaming by Lily Iona MacKenzie is an insightful and rewarding collection of poems artfully designed by Shanti Arts Publishing, known for their beautiful poetry books. These poems span both the greater world and the claustrophobia of COVID, focusing on painting, sculpture, music, and poetics with a sensitivity tethered to the California landscape. The title poem, for example, describes the resilience of a plastic Santa in a blustery California yard “determined to keep going / in the face of all odds.” I am reminded of the ubiquitous Mamas and Papas ballad, “California Dreaming,” which explores much different subject matter but embodies a similar theme of resonant spirituality in common things. Similarly, in the initial poem, “Poetry as a Tool of Inquiry,” the poet writes, “Even oranges / have…a reverence we save / for nature and her creatures.” Throughout the collection there are many memorable images, such as Matisse’s Blue Nude described as “bruised blue.” The poet also displays the courage to reverse her lens and examine artifacts of aging: “I don’t recognize this woman / whose skin sags and has lost / its purpose.” But the poet as creator and observer has not lost her muse in any way. Given the rich clarity of her vision, readers will find much in this book to ponder and treasure.
–Terry Tierney, author of The Poet’s Garage, Lucky Ride, and The Bridge on Beer River.
Reviewed in the United States on September 7, 2023
Interrupted in my first reading, I opened this little book, clothed in California poppies, to the very middle page, to a poem that hit me right between the eyes: “Paradox.” This deep dive into the mystery of a painting, any painting, left me breathless, yet running to the next page, and the next.Playful, sexy humor; coming-of-age insights; thoughts on being an artist; and the many dimensions of a woman passed. Reading California Dreaming felt as though I was walking through a field of beautiful flowers, each one a door to the intricacy of Human Nature.Unlike the historical paintings sometimes reflected in MacKenzie’s poems, this little book can be owned by readers and returned to in the evening for a meditative close to a busy day, the words bringing a chuckle, a nod or a murmured, “Aha!” Enjoy!
Reviewed in the United States on September 8, 2023
Thanks to Julia Hones for her review of California Dreaming on her blog:
Here’s an abbreviated version of the review:
Mrs. MacKenzie’s poetry is an exquisite dance of words on the crevices of both pain and joy. She grew up on a farm in Canada, where her surroundings inspired her to see the beauty in everything.
It is not easy to summon up a common thread to all these poems.
A number of poems at the beginning reflect on the inquisitive nature of the art; the last few poems of the collection seem to harmonize with the first section, for the poet conjures up questions that lack answers.
A section is dedicated to the impact of Covid-19, and another one deals with a lyrical exploration of emotions. Her words carve a gentle trail into the soul of the reader.
There is an array of her poems that meditates on the power of specific masterpieces by Matisse, Vermeer and other artists. The images of the paintings are included, so one gets to “see” the poems through her words.
The musical rhythm of her verses along with the ingenuous quirks embedded in some of her poems assemble to create a unique style of expression. I think the magic of her poetry is also revealed in the variety of themes and elements she offers.
I find the author intriguing. I have added one of her novels to my reading list: Freefall: The Divine Comedy.
Purchase California Dreaming from Shanti Arts or Amazon.