Harvey McQueen is a leading New Zealand poet, anthologist and educator who’s been publishing works since the 70s. When teaching poetry I still pull out the stacks of ‘Ten Modern New Zealand Poets’ and ‘A Cage of Words’, collections Harvey’s put together to help demystify NZ poetry for young people.
‘These I Have Loved’ is a new collection of Harvey’s 100 favourite New Zealand poems, divided into sections such as “Love the world”, “You know the place”, “When can their glory fade”. Harvey starts each section with a description of what the poems mean to him, with explanations ranging from personal acquaintance with the poets to the poems having ‘struck a chord’ with him at High School.
The lovely thing about this being a collection of personal favourites is that there’s no obligation to include certain works or a particular balance. The section “The peach tree at my door is broken” only includes poems by James K Baxter, who Harvey says “bestrides my poetry-life like a colossus.” and Allen Curnow also gets a lot of exposure. Harvey says of them both, “In their different ways they gave an explanation of the human capacity for evil and cruelty which seemed to cut across all our dreams.” Reflection on the classics is inevitable and necessary when covering the history of New Zealand poetry, but Harvey’s an avid reader and it’s pleasing to come across Amy Brown’s villanelle and Mark Pirie’s take on William Carlos Williams’ ‘This is just to say.’
This book is a wonderful culmination of a lifetime spent reading, writing and teaching poetry. Here’s a James K Baxter poem, one of my many favourites from Harvey’s collection:
Farewell to Hiruharama –
The green hills and the river fog
Cradling the convent and the Maori houses –
The peach tree at my door is broken, sister,
It carried too much fruit,
It hangs now by a bent strip of bark –
But better that way than the grey moss
Cloaking the branch like an old man’s beard;
We are broken by the Love of Many
And then we are at peace
Like the fog, like the river, like the roofless house
That lets the sun stream in because it cannot help it.