Poetry Shelf celebrates 2021: Ruby Solly picks books

Tōku Pāpā, Ruby Solly, Victoria University Press, 2021

On Friday I am posting book picks (and more) by a group of authors who wrote or produced something I loved this year. I am posting Ruby Solly’s separately as it as a longer piece. Ruby’s debut collection, Toku Pāpā, was one of my favourite poetry reads of the year. In my review I say:

Enter a poetry book that catches your heart and every pore of your skin, and you enter a forest with its densities, its shadows and lights, canopies and breaths, re-generations. You will meet oceans and rivers and enter different ebbs and flows, different currents, fluencies. You will reach the sky with its infinite hues, dreamings, navigations, weatherings (storm washed, sunlit, moonlit). You will meet the land with its lifeblood, embraces, loves, whānau, anchors.

This is what happens when I read Ruby Solly’s Tōku Pāpā.

Full review here

Ruby Solly’s picks

I have found a phenomenal amount of comfort in books, music, films and art these last several years as many of us have. I was an avid reader as a child and would spend days reading (often bunking school to do so in one way or another, sorry Mum) but in these last few years I’ve seen other people use books in the same way more often. For travel from a still point, understanding, and most importantly, to see themselves reflected. I think of the origins of the word mokopuna; our selves reflected in a spring, fresh and new in the telling. 

Perhaps selfishly, the strongest book related memory in my head for this year was the launch of my book Tōku Pāpā from VUP now THWUP. It really showed me why I write; having all my whānau there from all the different facets of my life, and my Dad speaking about how lucky we were to have such a great relationship formed around te ao Māori and te taiao. There were a few points where there wasn’t a dry eye in the house, and I think I would have won the award for wettest face in the whare. It was a real highlight as well to be able to fill Unity Books with the sounds of taonga pūoro, I like to imagine those sounds seeping into all the books, and the space still feels different when I go there now. A book can be healing, a book can be rongoa.

Another top moment was essa may ranapiri reading a poem to a track by taonga pūoro practitioner Rob Thorne at ‘Ngā Oro Hou’ as part of ‘Oro’ at Auckland Writers Festival. Just the way that breathing is so integral to both the music and the words in a way that marries and melds the two. Being there felt like an almost out of body or inter atua experience; I felt like breath personified, Hinepūnui-o-toka.

I absolutely adored Anne Kennedy’s The Sea Walks Into A Wall and rushed to get it as soon as it came out from my local, the fantastic Good Books owned by writers Jane Arthur and Catherine Robertson, and staffed by writers such as Eamon Mara and Freya Daly Sadgrove. I don’t think I’ve ever seen anyone look sad in Good Books! Anne’s writing has been a long standing love for me since I read Sing Song in my teens. This new book plays with the written form as the sea plays with shape of the coast; in a skillful way that moves and shapes us new lands to play on.

Greta and Valdin by my humour idol, Rebecca K Reilly, was a major read for me this year. I don’t think I’d ever read a book of young queer Māori who were allowed true happiness, reading a happy ending and a whānau of understanding felt very healing in a way where the healing never got in the way of what is a fantastic story. ‘Rangikura’ by Tayi Tibble served as karakia, as haka, and as whakatauki for me. Prayers wishing for peaceful waters to navigate in astronesian waka, rousing stories to pep us up for battle, and lessons learnt through experiences that Māori readers can now learn in words instead of pain and if they do not learn, Tayi will still be here writing them home to themselves.

The birth of We Are Babies Press is something I’ve found incredibly exciting too, as well as the hub that is Food Court Books. I feel like every year is a good year for the work of Jackson and Caro; Wellington’s writing Fairy God Parents. Going in to Food Court Books to hunt for treasures has been a treat this year, and it’s so beautiful to see Food Court Books and We Are Babies grow.

It surprises me, but even in these times, I feel lucky. I feel lucky to be writing and reading in a time of change, in a time where the affected are who tells the story, in a time where the fight is moving us forward. In a time where there are not only moments of struggle, but moments of joy and fun, because that’s what we all deserve. Moments of peace, moments of joy, and moments of deeper understanding of how we move and relate to the world. Wishing you all a very safe, meaningful, and beautiful 2022, may your pages be turning and your cup always be half full.

Ruby Solly (Kāi Tahu, Waitaha, Kāti Māmoe) is a writer, musician and taonga pūoro practitioner living in Pōneke. She has been published in journals such as Landfall, Starling and Sport, among others. She is currently completing a PhD in public health, focusing on the use of taonga pūoro in hauora Māori. Her first book, Tōku Pāpā was released by VUP in 2021

Ngā Oro Hou: The New Vibrations

The AWF programme announced this event: ‘An exceptional evening performance that brings together celebrated writers and taonga puroro practitioners in a lyrical weaving of language and song. Writers Arihia Latham, Anahera Gildea, Becky Manawatu, essa may ranapiri and Tusiata Avia joined poet/musicians Ruby Solly and Ariana Tikao. The session was curated by Ruby as part of her Ora series.

“The words were heart penned. I sat in the front row and breathed in and out, slowly slowly, breathing in edge and curve and pain and aroha and sweet sounds. It was like being in the forest. It was like being in the ocean. It was like being wrapped in soft goosebump blankets of words and music that warmed you, nourished you, challenged you. This is the joy of literary festivals that matter. This warmth, this love, this challenge.” Paula Green

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