I met Ruby Solly at last years Regional Maori Writers Hui at Hongoeka Marae. We were instant friends bonding over poetry, our masters degrees and using writing in order to navigate our identities as Māori .
Ruby is an incredible poet. Her poetry is utterly deft and agile. Warm and heartbreaking. We caught up to discuss Ruby's journey with both her writing and her identity; how both inform each other, how both are inseparable.
"I’ve had an interesting relationship with writing over the past few years as in this time I’ve been completing a masters in music therapy, and as a therapist 90% of my day to day life has become confidential," Ruby says. "Initially I felt stunted by this, but then I realised that I just needed to write from what I had internally, rather than externally. As I looked back through the writing I had been doing through the last seven years or so, I noticed themes of whakapapa, family, and identity popping up again and again; with this kind of dark thread weaving through it all. It kind of felt like the writing had been figuring me out, rather than the other way around."
How to meet your future husband in his natural habitat
You will find him
somewhere between the tallest totara
and the deepest ocean
then he will press you
into the moss beneath
and as you fall
you will hear the pūrerehua
summon the rains
when they fall
press your hands
further into his back
carve him new valleys
sculpt mountain ranges from
exhale as you watch them
close the gap between sea
"I remember as a kid him having all these pet doves, and one time he called me to him and then opened up his arms and about ten of them landed on him… and he just stood there, eyes closed, facing the sun, covered in these doves. Or I have memories of being in Whakapapa village with him as a toddler, and him putting me on his back and running through the tundra. I just remember feeling like he was a giant who could leap over streams in a single bound, dwarfing the mountains even. That’s the kind of man my Dad is. The kind of man who dwarfs mountains, well to a toddler anyway."
As a child
whenever I became angry,
my father would tell me to write the eulogy
of the person who had caused me pain.
He said that by the end of it,
I would see
that even those who cause us pain
are precious to the world.
My father was an exceptional man,
He was blessed
with a gentle soul.
He walked in step
with the many animals he adored
and he treaded lightly on this earth.
He taught me
to tread as he did
and to leave the world as you found it,
Ideally, improve it.
One day I will read this
to a room of faces I barely recognize.
I will look out on a world
no different with him gone
as it was
with him here.
"It’s funny how it’s all worked out as it’s starting to take shape as a more complete piece. I’ll have written something and I’ll describe it to someone in my family and then they’ll tell me more, and that will be the next piece…. or a missing piece. I’ve got a real interest in narrative therapy and within my research this year I’ve found that within my work as a te ao Māori music therapist, pakiwaitara is crucial for engagement and success in therapy. I think learning to tell my own stories, and the stories of those that have made me who I am is a part not only of becoming a better writer, but of becoming a better therapist. Because how can I help people to tell their stories if I can’t tell my own?"
How can I help people to tell their stories if I can't tell my own?
On the connections between her multiple disciplines, Ruby says,
"I feel like I’m really privileged to be at a point in my life where all the things that I’m interested in, or that I’m working to be good at, are starting to connect and match up, and I think that te ao Māori is really the pathway between all those things. I can be working with a client in taonga puoro based music therapy, and we’ll be discussing an element of their whakapapa and how that effects them now and matching it with an instrument with a similar kōrero, and I’ll be thinking about how to help them tell their story, and I’ll be sharing elements of mine to help build up that trust and strengthen that connection. I feel that is crucial for us to be more open and honest when we’re working like this, and I don’t think there is anything more honest and open than being a writer."