Monday, August 22, 2005

A very pheasant walk

Amongst my encounters with kingfishers, herons, fantails, rozellas and numerous less exciting birds, I managed to scare up a brace of pheasants. I haven't seen much of pheasants on the farm before, but there seemed to be quite a few clattering into flight at the sound of my approach.

Seeing the pheasants reminded me of Margaret Mahy because as a child she thought they were the most beautiful birds. Her attraction to the dead pheasant hanging in the laundry and subsequent reactions to its plucking and eating said much about her. Tessa Duder's book about MM, which I've just finished, is rich with the imaginative, observant, unconventional life and inner landscapes of this remarkable New Zealand author.

I think my favourite passage, which made me laugh out loud as I reread it two or three times, was Tessa's description of being on a panel with MM where the assembled authors had to make up a story, in turns, on the spot. MM's was contributions were not only so "astonishingly and baroquely inventive" but also spoken in rhyming couplets, that the other authors ("none strangers to public speaking") were reduced to mute terror. Their reactions to being so comprehensively outgunned had me laughing tears of sympathy.

While reading I was a bit distracted and disappointed by some sloppy editing, especially towards the end of the book- extra inappropriate in a work about someone so particular about how words fit together. But overall it was a pleasure to read, packed as it is with MM's own erudite yet accessible speeches and writings. I feel like I have had the privilege of having her wonderful mind leak slightly towards mine, inspiring a more playful engagement with words, and a more deliberately imaginative way of perceiving what's around me.

I've always had an attraction, almost an addiction, to alliteration and taken great pleasure from sneaking it into stodgy strategic policy papers whilst a public servant. But this morning I woke up and found myself thinking in rhyming couplets, which is new and probably much more difficult to subtly insert into funding applications.

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