Sinking Lessons

Philip Armstrong
Otago University Press


‘‘Memory’s gulf of dim green water, deeper
than you think...’

I read the first half of this book grinning with a sort of pleased, mad wonder, because it is so good.

Armstrong delivers a sense of being in the low-lit theatre, alongside the crew, plunged into place, time, emotion.

‘‘light and colour, cloudstacks
and sandstone and plummeting gulls,
calling up tomorrow...’’

Armstrong’s evocation of water engulfs us again and again:

‘‘beyond the outstretched arms of kelp
to where the light-green water darkened.’’
His masterful attention to metre satisfies our need for the music of the poem:
‘‘collapsing water kept at bay by sand,
fingers taking the day’s residues in hand.’’

The poem Creature Effects - Best Before stayed with me for days. Yes, I thought, this is pain, he has nailed it. My self-satisfied sense of getting-it promptly unravelled as the poem continued, leaving me devastated, knowing what devastation is.

With Sinking Lessons, at any moment you can wade out.

Kirstie McKinnon is an East Coast Otago poet

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