McQueen, Harvey

McQueen, Harvey

In Brief

Harvey McQueen published several collections of poetry and two memoirs, and edited or co-edited eight anthologies of New Zealand poetry, which were lauded for their originality. His own poetry has been called ‘meditative or conversational’ and focuses on ‘relationships, family, love, work, politics, office life, domestic concerns like gardening or cats, music and reading’. McQueen was made an Officer of the New Zealand Order of Merit in 2002 for services to education and literature. He died on Christmas Day, 2010, after a long illness.


McQueen, Harvey (1934 – ), is an anthologist, poet, memoirist and educational writer. Born in Little River, Banks Peninsula, and educated at Canterbury University College and Christchurch Teachers’ College, he was a secondary-school teacher and inspector, then curriculum officer and manager in the Department of Education, resigning in 1986 to freelance as a writer and educational consultant. He was appointed personal educational adviser to David Lange, then Minister of Education as well as Prime Minister, during the crucial reforms of ‘Tomorrow’s Schools’. McQueen’s memoir of that time, The Ninth Floor (1991), provides an informed commentary on the educational and political history, while his sympathetic treatment of Lange gives a narrative undertow close to tragedy.

He has shown a flair for anthologies that are both innovative and judicious. Ten Modern New Zealand Poets (ed. with Lois Cox, 1974), modestly aimed at schools, gave a central place (only a year after The *Young New Zealand Poets) to the generation of Sam Hunt, Bill Manhire and Hone Tuwhare, and the Penguin Book of New Zealand Verse (ed. with Ian Wedde, 1985) was the first to juxtapose the poetic traditions of the Māori and English languages. McQueen’s eclectic taste was further evidenced by the Penguin Book of Contemporary New Zealand Poetry (ed. with Ian Wedde and Miriama Evans, 1989) and The New Place: The Poetry of Settlement in New Zealand 1852–1914 (1993). This treated New Zealand’s Victorian poets with discriminating seriousness for the first time for more than half a century.

McQueen’s own poetry is mostly meditative or conversational, giving engaging expression to the mental life of a contemporary educated New Zealand male. Poems range over relationships, family, love, work, politics, office life, domestic concerns like gardening or cats, music and reading, with a sensitivity that is never merely fashionable and a commitment to the significance of private thought that is never pretentious. The wry humour, observation of small-scale detail and natural recurrence of reference to New Zealand’s fauna and flora are all pleasures. His volumes are Against the Maelstrom (1981), Stoat Spring (1983), Oasis Motel (1986) and the exquisitely produced Room (Black Robin, 1988). McQueen was president of PEN (NZ) in 1987, guiding the momentous shift of headquarters from Wellington to Auckland. Until 1997 executive director of the New Zealand Council for Teacher Education, he edited the provocatively titled Education is Change: 20 Viewpoints (1994).



Harvey McQueen’s published poetry includes Pingandy: New and Selected Poems (1999), Recessional & Other Poems (2004), and Goya Rules (2010). Important anthologies were Ten Modern New Zealand Poets (with Lois Cox, 1974), the first collection of modern New Zealand poetry for schools, and the groundbreaking Penguin Book of New Zealand Verse (with Ian Wedde, 1985). In his last anthology, These I Have Loved: My Favourite New Zealand Poems (2010), he reflected on his lifelong love of poetry and what this selection of poems meant to him.

McQueen’s political memoir, The Ninth Floor (1991), records his time working with David Lange and the educational and political changes of the mid-to-late 1980s.

This Piece of Earth: A Life In My New Zealand Garden (Awa Press, 2004) is a memoir that ranges from his Banks Peninsula boyhood to the Beehive. It interweaves his life story with the seasons of the Wellington garden and kitchen he shared with his wife, writer Anne Else.

Reviewing The Earth's Deep Breathing: Garden Poems by New Zealand Poets (2007), Ian Sharp wrote: ‘This Piece of Earth, Harvey McQueen's 2004 memoir, centred on his gardening experiences, was a book of rare charm. He has long been one of the country's most astute anthologists too. It was probably inevitable that he would eventually compile a collection of New Zealand gardening poems… What really makes this anthology a winner is the range of voices, moods and attitudes that McQueen encompasses.'

Harvey McQueen died on Christmas Day, 2010, after a long illness.

Updated January 2017.