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Reviewed by Jess Starke
Opening sentence
At the start there is nothing but black sand / except it is wider than we can know, / deeper than we can feel.
Poetry is a medium that can often be confusing for people, and I agree in some cases it can be. I will say that unless you have a strong base understanding of Te Reo Māori you may struggle with the text. However, not having a wider knowledge of Te Reo Māori does not take away from the fact that this is a work that makes you feel welcomed.

Acceptance and understanding for others' past and heritage is something that can be gained in many ways. I have struggled for many years with my identity and how I fit into this world. I always felt that I was more Pākehā than Māori even though I knew that I had Māori ancestry. Yet The Artist by Ruby Solly expressed in a truly beautiful way how unique everyone's experiences with their ancestry are. It truly spoke to me in a way I didn’t expect; my appreciation and pride in my heritage was only increased and my overall knowledge was enriched by the story that Solly’s work tells.

From the very first poem, if you have the patience and ability to look deeper and see the spectacular imagery crafted in The Artist, you are able to be transported into a different world. One where the myths and legends come alive, one where Māori culture sings from the very foundations of Aotearoa. The structure and flow of the poems and how they moved into one another created a really capturing atmosphere, drawing you in, and further expanding on the imagery crafted and weaved through every single poem. There is a clear musical influence throughout the work. In poems such as Waitaha, it shines through how important music and song are to Solly.

“But look closer,
see the miniscule variations,
the human touch of imperfection
creating music.
The notes between the notes;
the mountains and the plains,
the contrast in vibrato.
We are becoming ourselves.”

This excerpt from Waitaha speaks of how music lives in our very landscapes. How notes sing from our very bones. Our imperfections are what make us special and this is a theme that is explored at length throughout the poems in this collection.
The way the poem flows you can tell how musicality is a real advantage when it comes to poetry. It further reinforces the structure and flow of the work. Moving you through the words and the melody of them resting in your mind. It makes the work all the more memorable. Solly has this incredible ability to get the words to read like a melody, making the reader feel every single line right in their core.

This exploration into our ancestors and how through everything our culture is still to be treasured and celebrated feels like an embrace. A welcome into the world of Māori, the traditions, the stories and the way we have persevered in a constantly changing society. It reads as a song and it envelops the mind, body and soul, just like any good song should do. This work has an incredibly strong presence, not necessarily demanding to be seen per say, but it stays with the reader, the stories told through the pages becoming a part of those who read them, and from that I think this is a truly wonderful piece of poetry, and art.

I would recommend this book to those who like to really dive into what they’re reading and uncover the different meanings within the poems. It explores culture, the importance of the past on our future, and how art is a part of everything we’re made of. Although you don’t need to be an avid poetry reader to appreciate this text, I wouldn’t necessarily recommend this to someone who was completely new to poetry. However if you enjoy works such as Rupi Kaur's Milk and Honey you will definitely appreciate this collection by Ruby Solly.

- Jess is 16 and lives in Wellington.
Publisher: Te Herenga Waka University Press
ISBN: 9781776920709
Format: Paperback
Publication: 2023
Ages: 14+
Themes: Poetry, Identity, te reo Māori