Eulogy for Harvey McQueen by Mark Pirie
As Harvey's poetry publisher I've been asked to say a few words
about Harvey's poetry. In all, Harvey published seven poetry
collections and had two small privately printed pamphlets produced.
His poetry has its own kind of individual excellence as do his
anthologies and his education work.
In his final anthology These I Have Loved, Harvey ends with an elegy by Alistair Campbell for the late Lauris Edmond. Alistair writes that "Love never dies" and Harvey commented to me that love was a binding theme throughout this anthology. Leo Tolstoy also once wrote: "All, everything that I understand, I understand only because I love." Both these comments give insight into Harvey's role as a poet.
Harvey had a great love of humanity in all its folly and stupidity, he enjoyed quarrelling with history, exposing us to the seriousness of human mistakes, and celebrating human moments in time. He also greatly enjoyed using his garden as a metaphor for human action sometimes comparing the harsh nature of the natural world with what was occurring in the human world.
Harvey noted in his memoir, this piece of earth, that his poetry publisher Mark had begun to detect certain similarities between his poems and Ursula Bethell's garden poems. Bethell's best poems concerned her garden. There certainly are similarities between these two poets, but Harvey did not write solely on his garden. He also wrote humourous poems, science fiction poems, elegies, spiritual poems, political and bureaucratic sequences, love poems, poems about films/DVDs, books, TV shows, sports events, poems about his family, travel poems, poems about his own health and care, but beneath it all was an underlying sense of love for humanity. His humanist concerns and capacity for love are what are enduring in his work to me.
I'd like to read a poem that I think captures what Harvey was doing effectively as a poet. 'Winter Olympics' makes use of his trademark juxtaposition of the imagery of his garden and the imagery of contemporary life. The poem appeared in broadsheet 5, a feature I did on Harvey last year which also includes an interview.
By Harvey McQueen
Not a maple in sight; when she
sold us the place Elizabeth asked
if she could dig up a cherished camellia.
While we believed it was too big to survive
the strain, we said 'Sure'. Behind
the hole it left was a cowering wintersweet.
Leslie gave a white abutilon cutting
to fill the gap. Stasis did not prevail.
The flame lit, competitively the two plants
bolted for the space of sky, a trajectory
of green-power. Nature's not into charity.
The surrounding tall trees presented a challenge.
After two years, the abutilon now has a three
foot stem before four leggy branches, huge leaves
& only five flowers, graceful as dance skaters
on ice. Revitalised the wintersweet jostles like
an overbearing ice hockey jock. There is only
room for one on the central podium. My money's
on the abutilon, but there are further
complications in our small coppice corner
for at their feet there's this cheeky indigenous
intruder, a red stemmed, peppery-leaved matipo.
In closing, I'd like to acknowledge Harvey's help with my
recently published cricket poetry anthology, A Tingling Catch:
A Century of New Zealand Cricket Poems
1864-2009. Harvey, as Roger [Robinson] has commented, was a
great anthologist. He was a benchmark to measure against as an
anthologist, he read nearly every book of New Zealand poetry, and I
was very fortunate to have his input when I was putting together my
Today I'm wearing Don Neely's NZ Cricket tie that he gave me at the book launch at the Basin Long Room last year as recognition of the book's service to New Zealand cricket. Harvey played a part in the book. I visited Anne and Harvey's place and had conversations about the book over the last couple of years.
Thanks, Harvey, for all that you've done for New Zealand poets and poetry.