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‘Sinking Lessons’ wins award for Lyttelton poet and UC professor

07 November 2019

Lyttelton poet and University of Canterbury (UC) academic Professor Philip Armstrong has won the 2019 Kathleen Grattan Award with his poetry manuscript Sinking Lessons.


Professor Philip Armstrong, Honours & Postgraduate Coordinator in English.

Sinking Lessons was described by judge Jenny Bornholdt as an “accomplished, engaging collection of poems that displays literary skill and a sharp intelligence at work”.

“There’s great affection for life of all kinds – human and the natural world – coupled with an awareness of the fragility of existence,” she says.

Professor Armstrong says the poems in his collection are shaped by two main themes: the sea and the agency of the non-human world in general.

“I grew up in a house beside the Hauraki Gulf, and for the last two decades I’ve lived within sight of Lyttelton Harbour, and the sights and sounds and smells of salt water make their way into my poetry whether I intend it or not.

“The other theme linking these poems is my attempt to recognise the active, mobile, lively, unpredictable capacities of the non-human world, from animals and plants through to waste matter and refuse, through to land forms and weather patterns.”

The biennial poetry award from Landfall and the Kathleen Grattan Trust is for an original collection of poems, or one long poem, by a New Zealand or Pacific permanent resident or citizen. Landfall is published by Otago University Press.

Professor Armstrong receives a $10,000 prize and a year’s subscription to Landfall, and Otago University Press will publish his collection in 2020.

Professor Armstrong teaches literature (especially Shakespeare), human–animal studies, and creative writing (including poetry) at UC.

He has written a number of scholarly books (two on Shakespeare, and two on animals in literature) as well as a book for a general audience (about sheep in history and culture).

In 2011 he won the Landfall Essay Prize for a piece about the Canterbury earthquakes, entitled On Tenuous Ground.

Sinking Lessons is his first collection of poetry.

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