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California Dreaming

poems by Lily Iona MacKenzie

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Lily Iona MacKenzie's unbounded zest for life sings through the poems in this collection. A writer in her bones and a dreamer in her heart, she discovers the poetry in everything—travel, art, music, nature, past and present—her words and rhythms touch the soul and leave their treasures behind. “Listen closely to these poems’ quiet but insistent murmur.” (Kathleen McClung)

POETRY / General

ISBN: 978-1-956056-85-3 (print; softcover; perfect bound)

LCCN: 2023938858

Released June 27, 2023; Copyright 2023

110 pages; 4 full-color images


In her youth, Lily Iona MacKenzie, a poet and novelist who also writes nonfiction, frolicked on a Canadian farm in an area almost too small to be on the map. She didn’t practice writing then, but she did learn to pay attention to her surroundings. The clouds in the sky offered images that stirred her imagination and stimulated her dreaming self. Cows, calves, sheep, pigs, chickens, turkeys, dogs, cats, and horses were her early teachers and her main playmates. Those years instilled in her the need to honor those in her care and the realization that being successful involves hard work. As a writer, it includes her dedication to the writing craft and her belief that commitment and perseverance form the machinery that writers depend upon. Visit her blog at



“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, author of Alice B. Toklas is Missing, Laureates and Heretics, Poetry and Uselessness, The Poet Resigns, and Inventions of a Barbarous Age

Articles and Reviews

Amazon Reviews

LibraryThing Reviews

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.

“An exquisite dance of words on the crevices of both pain and joy.”
Julia Hones, Review, My Writing Life (August 21, 2023)


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