Written by: Ruby Solly
Victoria University Press
Reviewed by: Jo Lucre
The striking cover of Tōku Pāpā, featuring author Ruby Solly and (one may only guess) her father in full traditional dress, lends itself to the depth and drama you will find beneath. Strong and powerful, Solly writes of her journey and her connection to her whakapapa then, now, and forever. Her poetry collection is loosly connected by themes, firstly awe (the strength and power of the soul) and secondly, kura (feathers; a glow; the colour red).
Tōku Pāpā is Solly’s first book – a multi-talented creative, musician, and writer, she is also the composer of the album Pōneke, featuring the soundscapes of Wellington. I could easily imagine this as a backdrop to her orated poems. Her words, beautifully crafted yet hauntingly stark, harness the fragility yet strength of parenting, and the relationships that hold for a lifetime. Woven effortlessly throughout is the presence of Solly’s father.
Through her poems I considered the elements of nature and nurture and what it means to grow up outside your culture and feel alienated or disconnected from it; or instead, to grow up surrounded by your culture, embedded in all that you are and all that you will be.
There’s a sense of the latter throughout Solly’s poems where her connection to her whakapapa and knowledge of where she came from was ever-present, despite growing up away from her marae. There is pain and sorrow around this. Enveloped in her voice is a longing, at times heartbreaking.
The beauty of her poetry is that the inane and the ordinary becomes startling, unique and imbued with wisdom and the passing of time. Solly’s lyrics immerse you, as if crossing generations.
“You buried my whenua at a motel”.
“When my brother is born you bury his on someone else’s mountains”.
Tōku Pāpā is a sweeping collection of poems that convey a sense of the ties that bind us, and of Solly’s connection and identity, nurtured by her father who showed up for her past, present, and future.