Thursday, June 17, 2010

The Penguin

Several years ago surfing the net I found a lecture by Wystan Curnow which had high praise for Ian’s and my Penguin anthology. .

'Anthologies of New Zealand poetry have over the last 50 years played a defining role in the critical understanding of our literature. Alex Calder has shown how a short history of poetry and nationalism in the now-called Aotearoa/New Zealand can be written by way of a history of the major anthologies. Ian Wedde and Harvey McQueen's 'Penguin Book of New Zealand Verse' proposed a radical revision. One fifth of their material was Maori; they gave us our first bicultural canon. Equally important was their ability to pick out for the 1980s, a range of ambivalences and ambiguities, puzzles and problems, in the understanding of our literature and culture not identified by previous anthologists.


When asked about achievements I name the Penguin as amongst the best. It is something I feel very proud to have been involved.


  1. If a successor to your anthology were being put together in 2010-2011, Harvey, what do you think its ambitions and its objectives should be?

  2. Tim
    That’s a hard question to answer. Partly, I’m out of form. At one stage I prided myself on being up-to-date with new poetry. Age, income, energy, will-power are all factors but I now feel increasingly out–of-date. I understand the Chinese sage, let me find a wisteria-shrouded waterfall and I’ll take my Bethell, Baxter, Auden & Blake there.
    We did try to represent the diversity of the contemporary period. Like a first five-eight we attempted to read the game but it was fluid, the ball could go many ways. So we tried to cover the options. Still think we did it well.
    We attempted to continue with the Contemporary volume. Alas! We both had full-time jobs. We were also too close to the poetic action and at the same time did not have the space to be objective about it. It is in my regret basket.. Though it did give many young poets a breakthrough in that they were anthologised.
    I don’t regret the Maori. I regret our lead has not been followed. And Samoan is a new kid on the block. And I suspect Chinese.
    The big thing about an anthology is to have horses from many stables. There is not just one way to produce winners. Time winnows out the long-term winners. In the present time one can only follow hunches. Above all, be catholic, wide-embracing, there are little mammals running about whose offspring will challenge the rampart dinosaurs.

  3. Thanks for this thoughtful answer, Harvey - I realise it was not an easy question! I agree with you that both the mammals and the dinosaurs should be represented, both the highly publicised and the scarcely publicised at all - but that makes the selectors' job even more time-consuming, as does inclusivity of language. Co-editing Voyagers has given me an inkling of the anthologist's lot!