Margaret (Peggy) Dunstan, poet, author. Died aged 89.

Peggy Dunstan found inspiration for her poetry in ordinary day-to-day events.

"The settings vary from New Zealand to ancient Egypt," she said in a 1968 interview. "But the poems are always related to something out of my life or the life of others around me.

"The old mind ticks over at the most unlikely times. Inspiration always occurs in the middle of the ironing or when the children are screaming."


It would be easy to think that her life was busy enough, as a widow bringing up three small children. But Mrs Dunstan found the time for writing. Her first poems were published in English and American magazines and in the New Zealand Listener.

A collection of her work, entitled Patterns on Glass, contained some previously published work and some new, and was at the time (1968) one of the largest published collections by a New Zealand poet.

When it came to publication, however, Mrs Dunstan found a degree of prejudice against women poets. She first sent her work overseas under the name of Patrick Duggan, as she felt male publishers would be more likely to look kindly on something written by a man.

She used her experience to encourage other women poets, setting up workshops in her home. Up to 25 people would attend these get-togethers, including several well-known poets, who helped the younger members hone their skills.

Mrs Dunstan also worked with psychiatric patients, where her method of giving assignments on set topics brought forth poems of publishable standard from the patients.

She drew on her childhood experiences in Christchurch and Wellington to write A Fistful of Summer, published in 1981. This memoir, in prose rather than poetry, was followed by The Other Side of Summer in 1983. She had planned one book, but her gift of total recall meant everything she remembered would not fit into one volume.

She could name every child who came to her third birthday party and what gifts they brought. Friend Jack Ballinger gave her three embroidered handkerchiefs, she remembered.

Mrs Dunstan found her early training in poetry was the best discipline for writing prose.


"Someone once told me to choose every word as if I had to pay five bob for it and that has always stayed in my mind. It is easy to get language intoxication."

Mrs Dunstan wrote regularly for children's magazines, and two of her four published books of poetry were for children. She felt that their appeal would stand up to the years.

"Children don't change, only the times and circumstances."

Peggy Dunstan was born in Christchurch in 1920, and educated at Wellington East Girls' College. Her husband died in 1966.

She died in Auckland, and is survived by two sons and a daughter, and their families.