by Lisa Houlihan Stice (Marine spouse)

Dirt and Honey (Green Writers Press, 2018) is Raquel Vasquez Gilliland’s debut poetry. Rich with natural descriptions and images, the collection is separated into four sections: Clay, Pollen, Honey, and Dirt.


Gilliland’s poems conserve the earth’s magic, preserve cultural and family stories, and reinvent history and myth. Alongside reimagined accounts of Adam and Eve, Pandora, the Amazons, and such, are poems of family (particularly mother and grandmother) and the birth of the poet’s son. In the “Clay” section, it is women who build and shape the earth:

Last night Mami and Nana

stretched their claws

in the mud.


Like ravens, they stood

dark, tall, windly.

Mud’s got a voice, you know,


and if you put your bare

feet in it, you can hear that long caw.

(from “God’s Grandmother”)

The “Pollen” section continues with origin stories with women as the creators of life and the cultivators of tradition.

My first contractions

come before the summer

gets thick with mosquitoes

and pears.


They pulse around you

as you sprout lungs.

(from “Mandarinfish”)

There is a magic attributed to carrying and birthing a child, that so much change and growth happens inside the womb. The other poems of this section connect that womb magic with the natural world and with generations of family. That growing child is as much part of the maize stories and lunch lady stories of his great-grandmother as he is from the flesh of his mother.

As the collection moves forward into the Dirt and Honey sections, female strength (“Amazons wore us / on their shields”) and dominance grows –

It’s said

God took a rib

from Adam, but someone

got that wrong down

the story-line. God

found Eve’s rib in the dirt.

This is why women bleed.

That ancient rib,

so old God wasn’t sure

where it came from— 

it calls back to the dirt.

(from “Honey and Dirt”)

The need for stories and history becomes more important with the birth of a new generation, for the new generation will continue to shape the earth. There is a responsibility and trust passed down in these poems.

About the author:

Raquel Vasquez GillilandRaquel Vasquez Gilliland is a Mexican-American poet, painter, wife, mother and aspiring micro-farmer. In her work, she explores myths and folklore as well as motherhood, plants and the lineages of all things.

She was born in West Palm Beach, Florida and grew up there with her parents, brother and sister. She studied fine art for many years, specializing in painting, both in high school and college. She has a B.A. in cultural anthropology from the University of West Florida and an M.F.A. in creative writing from the University of Alaska, Anchorage.

Her work has been published or is forthcoming in Rattle, Luna Luna and Fairy Tale Review, among others. Her first collection, Dirt and Honey, will be released in 2018 by Green Writers Press.

About the Reviewer:

lisaLisa Stice is a Marine Corps wife. It’s difficult to say where “home” is, but she currently lives in North Carolina with her husband, daughter and dog. She is the author of a poetry collection, Uniform (Aldrich Press, 2016).You can find out more about her and her publications here and on Facebook .