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Monday 20 July 2020 12:47pm

Philip Armstrong

Armstrong cover webA little fish comes up, a sprat, a splinter
shining in the sun. He keeps it dangling, calls out

for his dad who comes and slips the hook
back in behind the eye and out the mouth
and drops the fish into the layered green,

deftly reversing time. What will happen?
asks the boy. The man says They know what to do!
He'll bury his head in the seabed till it heals.

The poems in Sinking Lessons portray the vitality of a world full of things and beings we too often disregard, using language that vibrates in harmony with the lively tales it tells – from small, everyday events to stories of shipwrecks and strandings, resurrections and reanimations, arctic adventures and descents into the underworld.

The cast of characters includes members of the poet's family alongside heroes from myth and literature, such as Orpheus, Scheherazade and Frankenstein's Creature. And crowding in upon these, at all times, a multitude of non-human protagonists: sun and stars, wind and water, mud and sand, body fluids, decaying matter, chemicals organic and inorganic, and a great many fishes and birds and beasts.

Sinking Lessons is the first collection of poetry from Philip Armstrong, winner of the 2019 Kathleen Grattan Poetry Award.


Sinking Lessons is an accomplished, engaging collection that displays literary skill and a sharp intelligence at work. The poems range easily from the personal to wider issues like the environment and history. There's a great affection for life of all kinds – human and the natural world – coupled with an awareness of the fragility of existence. About a homeless person, the poet writes: 'His heart maketh a noise in him.' It's a noise we should be hearing and taking notice of. – Jenny Bornholdt, Judge of the 2019 Kathleen Grattan Poetry Award.


Academy of New Zealand Literature (ANZL)


PHILIP ARMSTRONG lives in Lyttelton and teaches literature, writing and human-animal studies at the University of Canterbury. In 2011 he won the Landfall Essay Prize for his essay 'Tenuous Grounds', an account of the Canterbury earthquakes. His previous books include Sheep and A New Zealand Book of Beasts (co-authored with Annie Potts and Deidre Brown)

Publication details

Paperback, 230 x 150mm, 54 pp, ISBN 978-1-98-859241-1, $27.50

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