Friday, October 08, 2010

HARVEY McQUEEN - educator, poet, anthologist, memoirist, blogger

Harvey McQueen  spent his adult lifetime in education. I had known of him for a long while before I finally met him back in the mid-1980's when I had the great joy and privilege of publishing The Penguin Book of New Zealand Verse which he and Ian Wedde edited. That was but one of the books he anthologised in a long and illustrious career.

Now he has another anthology, published just this week by enterprising Wellington publisher Steele Roberts, a company which provides great support to poetry publishing in this country. In fact outside of AUP and VUP Steele Roberts is probably our leading poetry publisher.

Harvey's new book, and he tells me it will probably be his last, is THESE I HAVE LOVED - my favourite New Zealand poems, and it is an absolute gem.
It is a marvellous, eclectic collection as you would expect of course from one whom I suspect has poetry running in his veins.
Then there is his eight pages of Introduction where he talks of life and explains just how poetry got to be in those veins in the first place, then scattered throughout the book there are his thoughtful comments on the peoms he has selected.
Here are a couple of paragraphs from his Introduction which the publishers have generously allowed me to excerpt:

These are poems which, down the years or in some cases only

recently, have settled in my mental household, comfortable and available,
a satisfying source of reflection and contemplation.
To a considerable extent they represent who I am, or maybe the person I would hope to be. They reflect my upbringing, my temperament and my interests.
There are unexpected gaps. There are long poems and short poems,
some simple, others difficult, some well-known, others not. I used to
tell my students, you don’t need to understand a poem fully to like it.
Love has the capacity to astonish. Like relationships, you think you’ve
grasped the essence, only to find there are previously unplumbed depths
and surprises.

Poetry is a rather strange love. Where did mine begin? I was five
when my farmer father was thrown off his horse and killed — an
event that underpins my existence, security cannot be guaranteed. My
grandfather — Pop we called him — bought a small cottage near his
large farmhouse for his widowed daughter and my younger brother and
me. Granny, his wife, had a store of nursery rhymes and songs which she
taught me off by heart, ‘Little pig, little pig where have you been’, ‘Pop
goes the weasel’, ‘Jack and Jill’, ‘See saw, Marjory Daw’, and ‘Oranges
and lemons, say the bells of St Clemens’. A better seedbed for poetry is
hard to imagine. Pop was a storyteller, a thinker and a reader. He had,
for his times, a large library — Dickens, Sapper, Buchan, Haggard, Left
Book Club books and one poetry book, Blanche Baughan’s Shingle Short.

I devoured them all.

In 2008 Harvey learnt he had a rare degenerative muscle condition, affecting mainly his arms and legs, which has slowly turned him into a house-bound invalid. That’s why he calls this anthology his swan-song. “I’m so happy to have this in my hand – Steele Roberts have done a superb job with it.”
Harvey says in his Introduction that "the end is in sight though the time span remains unknown".
And here is his dedication which appears at the front of the anthology and which resonated with me:
To my wife Anne Else,

for whom I wrote this poem

is reading a Margaret
Atwood poem &
understanding it

is old as the hills
& young as the moon

is fresh picked
sweet peas
damp with dew

is regret
at lost time

is giving up
the computer for
you to send an e-mail

is what old
men sing about
long after the event


Thanks Harvey, These I Have Loved is a must-have for all who love poetry or would like to love poetry.A wonderful addition to my poetry bookshelf. Thanks too for all you have done for NZ poets and NZ poetry over your life. I salute you.
Author photo above by Rob Stephenson, and the splendid cover image featuring Akaroa Harbour by Rob Suisted/
And check out Harvey's blog - stoatspring

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