from the editor's desk

Vale Wendy Jenkins (1952-2022)

We are proud to offer three works in memoriam of Wendy Jenkins, poet and editor.

Westerly is grateful to the contributing authors and to Wendy’s family for their permission for the use of the poems and images included.

Vale Wendy Jenkins (1952-2022)

Georgia Richter

I first met Wendy Jenkins sometime in the late ’90s. I had submitted a manuscript to Fremantle Press, and Wendy called me in for a chat. She said my writing was lovely but there were a couple of problems: my novel had no plot, and as for the parts that tried to tell the history of Fremantle, well, I pretty much had it all wrong.

It was an inauspicious beginning for a friendship, but actually it had all the hallmarks of a Jenkins encounter: authenticity, truth-telling, and letting me know that this fourth-generation Fremantle person wasn’t going to let anyone get away with mediocre or inaccurate research about her hometown.

Though this meeting was disheartening at the time, I came to see it as an acknowledgement that, when it came to words, Wendy was serious about developing potential, and she was generous when it came to nurturing, advising and sharing her expertise. She met with me because she rated my writing and she was prepared to give me a chance.

Fast forward nearly thirty years and Wendy and I are sitting at a coffee shop in Hilton. We are talking about her crime novel in progress. Willow is brilliant but there are some aspects of the plot that I think aren’t quite there yet. Wendy listens avidly and takes notes. She loves the robust exchange and the chance to discuss ideas. She tells me she will go away to think about it and do whatever it takes to resolve those final plot holes.

Between that first meeting, and the one that was to be our last, I forged a bond with an extraordinary, complex, talented, uncompromising woman who appraised the world with sharp eyes and who was a loyal and fierce friend.


When I became fiction publisher at Fremantle Press in 2008, I contacted Wendy and asked if we could meet up ahead of time to discuss how she and I would work together. She said no. She was good at saying no. She wanted to wait until I was there, and then she would see what I was made of. I had to prove myself before she would let me in.

So I began to work at the Press, slowly establishing that Wendy and I read in the same way, that we saw the same raw potential in work. We shared a mutual enjoyment of terribly written sex scenes that could go no further, because what is read aloud in the assessment room has to stay there. Wendy would give sharp reviews of some things we read. ‘He’s just flashing his colours,’ she would say when she thought someone was trying it on. Sometimes we competed with heavy sighs as the reading bogged down.

I was only there for the final quarter of Wendy’s forty-three-year career with Fremantle Press. Across time she read and assessed more than ten thousand manuscripts, and those published books which she edited and worked on must have reached millions. Wendy was one of a handful of people who shaped the Press from nearly the very beginning, along with Ian Templeman, Ray Coffey, Clive Newman and, later, Helen Kirkbride.

At the end of 2019, the team at Fremantle Press—including Jane Fraser, Cate Sutherland, Claire Miller, Naama Grey-Smith and Cathy Szabo—were sorry to bid her farewell but we were all looking forward to seeing her carve out more writing time for herself.

In 2018, Wendy was made a Member of the Order of Australia for her significant service to literature as an author, editor and publisher, and for her work mentoring and developing so many writers in the literary community.

At the time of her award, Wendy Jenkins AM said:

Editing has been at the centre of my working life, and I have been privileged to be present at the emergence and unfolding of some of this state’s, and this nation’s, most defining voices, stories and talents. It has been work of quiet passion, from which I have gained more than I have given. (‘Wendy Jenkins Recognised’ np)


Born in 1952, Wendy was the twin of Lois, and sister of John. Their mother was Maureen, with whom Wendy shared the middle name Elizabeth. Sister Jenkins trained in Fremantle and was for a long time a Silver Chain nurse in Fremantle suburbs like Hilton, Bicton, Coogee and Willagee. Campbell Jenkins, rugged and tanned, was a lumper in Fremantle Port, who used to take the kids fishing and crabbing off the mole in Freo Harbour. Wendy lived almost all of her life in Fremantle and its surrounding suburbs. She went to primary school first at Beaconsfield, then Hilton Park from Year Five, and high school at Hamilton Hill and then John Curtin Senior High for her final two years.

Sport was high on the radar thanks to Cam, who would have been thrilled if they’d had another player in the next generation the calibre of his brother, Frank Jenkins: ‘Scranno’ played for the Bulldogs and was a Sandover medallist. In football season, the Jenkins household was full of the sounds of the WAFL on the radio, and Cam would take the kids to matches on weekends when Sister Jenkins was off nursing. This childhood footy saturation later showed itself in three of Wendy’s four novels—Killer Boots, The Big Game and Gunna Burn—with Wendy no doubt channelling stories of her famous uncle into them.

The competitive edge that later expressed itself via Wordle or any other game that was afoot, manifested in the young Wendy Jenkins on the hockey pitch where she was an excellent if ferocious hockey player who could have tried out for the state team. On the pitch she was intimidating and fearless and, in her excitement, would get cautioned about raising the stick above her head. Her twin sister Lois decided it was better to stay off the ground in case Wendy was, quite literally, in full swing.

Wendy harked from a working-class world of service and trades, but from Lois there come some tantalising glimpses into the nascent poet:

Wendy began writing poems at a very early age, lying on her bed, reciting aloud, making changes and then reciting it again until she was happy with that section, then moving on to the next verse. Because I was a sometimes willing, but sometimes irritated captive audience, I learnt the poems also, and some remain with me to this day. (personal correspondence)

In absence of any obvious (or elsewhere reported) encouragement, one can only conclude that Wendy always had a preternatural gift for words—a gift which seems to have arrived fully formed and which spilled from her very early.

Wendy was rightly suspicious of juvenilia and had a poet’s reticence about publishing it. So I hope she will forgive here my inclusion of the poem that appeared in a John Curtin SHS magazine in Form Five (Year Eleven). ‘Look Back’ demonstrates the control, sophistication and originality that she had achieved by around the age of sixteen:

 Look back through the vague veneer of years,
 To the warm ephemeral flush of childhood.
 To the thirsty spring that drank of your youth,
 So an hour was never an hour,
 And a day not a day at all.
 Look back in wonder and recall.

 Look back, through the tyranny of time,
 To the dawning of your independence.
 To the summer passions that beat in your breast,
 And ripened the sweet fruits of life for the fall.
 Look back in wonder and recall.

 Look back, through your diary’s yellowed leaves,
 To the vapid climax of your life.
 To the subtle siren sighs of autumn,
 That lured you closer to the pall.
 Look back in wonder and recall.

 Look back, through the dire doors of death,
 To the swift senescence born of winter,
 To the wind’s bitter breath, that froze up your logic,
 And swept shrouds of snow on your hair.
 Look back in wonder, not despair. (21)


Wendy studied Social Work at WAIT (now Curtin University) and she was employed for a time as a psychiatric social worker with the Western Australian Mental Health Services—a job which she would have acquitted well, I believe, with her perceptiveness and interest in the stories of others.

In 1979, at the age of 27, she had just returned from travelling through Europe. She was working downstairs at the Fremantle Arts Centre as a supervisor in the art gallery, courtesy of a position offered by the centre’s first director, Ian Templeman. Ian asked Wendy if she could assess some manuscripts for Fremantle Arts Centre Press, established just three years before. Soon her job at the Press evolved as she began to edit and help authors develop their work in poetry, fiction, and non-fiction.

Famously, Wendy was the one who opened up a massive, roughly typed manuscript tied together with green-and-white waxed string. She began to read, with a growing sense of excitement that made the hair stand up on her arms. Wendy said:

I wanted to know, like the hundreds of thousands of readers after me, what happened to that little boy born in turn-of-last-century Australia into such nation-shaping and difficult times. (‘Tales from the Backlist’ np)

The manuscript was Albert Facey’s A Fortunate Life, and Wendy Jenkins and Ray Coffey shared the editing of the book that has become an enduring Australian classic.

Wendy was never a one-trick pony. Her professional roles included an arts management business with Mary Wright, which was called Wright Jenkins Articles. Based in the Bannister Street Craftworks, they provided editing, PR for arts organisations, events management and services for individual artists. Besides this, Wendy did valuable work on panels and committees for the Australia Council’s Literature Board, and the Department of Culture and the Arts.

WA was brimming with extraordinary writers in those early years of the Press. Recently, Deborah Robertson sent me a photo of her with the young writers Gail Jones, Joan London, Marion Campbell, and Wendy, full of life and glee, sprawled together in some loungeroom. It’s a truly historic image. Never I think has a couch in Australia borne so much literary talent at once.

In 1979, Wendy’s first poetry collection, Out of Water into Light, was published with the Press. Another, Rogue Equations, was published in 2000. Although she is most admired as a poet and editor, Wendy could also write cracking fiction, as evidenced by her four published novels—the three mentioned above, and Hot News. Some of her short stories were anthologised. Her across-the-range ability was extraordinary: she was as much at home in a villanelle as a limerick, a crime novel or a book for kids. Her ear for language was superb and she was rightly proud of her literary superpowers.


When Nandi Chinna’s manuscript Swamp came in to the Press, Wendy and I went walking with Nandi through the wetlands at Walliabup and, like Nandi, we both fell in love with that mysterious, beautiful landscape.

As the 2017 state election loomed, Wendy and I joined Nandi and thousands of other activists to try to halt the extension of the Roe Highway over a long, hot, tension-charged summer. Nandi said:

One of my greatest memories of Wendy is linking arms with her and other women, to form a barrier against mounted police that were protecting and enabling bulldozers to clear banksia woodlands around the lakes. (personal correspondence)

Wendy was one of a number of activist poets like John Kinsella and J. P. (James) Quinton, Liana Joy Christensen, Tracy Ryan, Tim Kinsella and others who gave that campaign their everything and who documented it in powerful, real-time poems, including a long poem called ‘Beeliar Blue’, which noted many of the key activists in its verses.

A mordant chapbook was produced by John, James and Wendy: twelve sonnets taking as their inspiration the streets around the wetlands that bear incongruous Shakespearean names. James, John and Wendy each contributed a verse to the twelve poems. One of my favourites is ‘Hamlet’:

 The curate’s egg a planet, a ball of asphalt,
 O horrible, O horrible, most horrible!
 Such antics at the Christmas office part,
 Spiked with quills from the fretful echidna.

 Gah! This power that follows me around,
 Makes me give speeches, cuts short conversations.
 To win by default is to be internally corruptible,
 To not win at all is to stray from the playbook.

 What a piece of work is this?
 how ignoble in reason; and in harm—how infinite.
 Sleep now sweet forest creatures lost so far.
 Flights of Carnaby’s circulate as you pass. (11)


Wendy and I were both early birds of another kind, though often I would arrive at six or seven in the morning to find the coffee pot on and WJ already eyebrow-deep in manuscripts. She loved work best in a brand new day when people weren’t yet around.

When she was working on a poetry edit, she could take up the whole boardroom table with manuscript pages spread out and the tabletop covered in little rubber crumbs from her pencil workings and erasings.

She would sit with each poet, going through their work for hours, line by line. They loved her keen eye, her fine ear and her vision that met them wherever they were in their work. I believe it was the fact that she knew writing from the writer’s side that made her such a superb editor.

The poet Marion Campbell recalled Wendy as ‘a most exquisite and brilliant poet’, but she also still knows by heart the poem that Wendy came up with on the spot one day when Marion’s son complained he had to write a limerick for school.

That family had a short-tailed Siamese X cat called Bruno who had recently shown amorous intentions towards one of Marion’s sweaters. Scarcely pausing, Wendy looked at the cat and said:

 There once was a cat called Bruno
 Who was, well, a bit—you know
 His tail was truncated
 But he happily mated
 In a style that only a few know

All of which is to say: Wendy didn’t just go to work and do it there—she was a genius wordsmith who lived in the world of words as naturally as breathing.


A preoccupation in Wendy’s unfinished crime novel Willow was friendship: the value of long friendships that endured despite their cracks and flaws. Friendship was important to Wendy, though she sometimes fell out with people in spectacular ways.

There were a number of poets with whom she had a long, deep history and who she always held dear. These include John Kinsella, Tracy Ryan, Caroline Caddy, John Mateer and Michael Heald.

Hearing these and other poets like Dennis Haskell, Caitlin Maling and Nandi Chinna speak of her, I have come to appreciate how intrinsic to many careers her input was. The page was the place she was most at home but once you met Wendy there, she would come to walk beside you in the real world.

There was nobody else in this world like Wendy Jenkins. I so hope that for this brilliant, questing spirit there is a pen and a notepad waiting on the other side.

Works Cited

‘Fremantle Press’s Wendy Jenkins recognised in Queen’s Birthday Honours’, Fremantle Press, https://fremantlepress.com.au/2017/06/13/fremantle-presss-wendy-jenkins-recognised-in-queens-birthday-honours/. Accessed 01/02/2023.

Jenkins, Wendy. ‘Look Back’, The Sentinel, (John Curtin High School) 13 (1969): 21.

—. Rogue Equations, Fremantle: Fremantle Arts Centre Press, 2000.

Jenkins, Wendy, John Kinsella and J. P. Quinton. Twelves for the Twelfth Night: Poems in support of the Beeliar Wetlands, York: Shed Under the Mountain Press, 2017.

‘Tales from the Backlist: A Fortunate Life turns 30’, Fremantle Press, https://fremantlepress.com.au/2011/04/13/tales-from-the-backlist-a-fortunate-life-turns-30/. Accessed 01/02/2023.

The Metaphoric Jenkins

Dennis Haskell

Although she once described herself to me as ‘a hermit’, few people have had as much influence on Western Australian poetry over the last four decades as Wendy Jenkins. ‘Hermit’ is a slight exaggeration but you almost never saw Wendy at poetry readings or other literary events and I can’t remember ever hearing her read her own poems in public. I saw her very occasionally at friends’ gatherings. She was a restrained, self-critical and, despite her outward shows, a shy personality outside of her professional roles. She was also completely genuine, loyal and absolutely trustworthy.

Georgia Richter has calculated that Wendy edited more than 10,000 manuscripts and, inevitably, in the wake of her death most attention will be paid to that incisive professional work. Although some of those manuscripts were mine I’d like firstly to pay attention to her work as a poet.

Awareness of her poetry is a little muted because she published just two collections, Out of Water into Light and Rogue Equations. Her output is small because she had an Eliotian reticence and capacity for self-criticism, tougher than any criticism she extended to other poets, even though she was not backward there. In one poem from Rogue Equations, ‘Tidal Power’, she wrote, ‘if words are a raft do you dare to float it’. Wendy had such respect for words that she dared to float her raft only rarely. All her poems are lyrics, that form of immediate and musical utterance. Despite the generic dominance of the lyric ever since the Romantics, in recent decades there have been many critiques of it because of its dependence on a (supposedly) unquestioned, holistic ‘I’. Wendy’s poems never depend on an egocentric ‘I’ but tend to step the reader away from awareness of the speaker through metaphor. The poem ‘S.O.S.’ (‘On Reading’, no.2) begins ‘Metaphor / is the flight plan / of some poems’, and the book in which it appears takes its title from the claim of ‘metaphor as rogue equation of desire’. In the second poem of Rogue Equations, a diver:

 … feels thing move in
 sounds before the word

 and thrills as that shared
 language moves him too. (12)

‘Diver’ can be read as an allegory, as this seems an exact description of her poetic modus operandi. Rogue Equations has as epigraph, ‘the gods are in metaphor’, a quotation from René Char.

All her poems, without exception, reveal Wendy Jenkins’ intelligence, her refusal to waste words, and her exactness of observation. These characteristics and her sensitivity to language can be quickly demonstrated in another poem that reveals her own aesthetics, ‘A Candle Burns’, quoted here in full:

 a lit
 its spinal

 let the
 a line
 of heat
 in your own

 ation? (48)

It is also worth noting that, perhaps surprisingly, her poems sometimes display a sensitivity about personal relationships, for example in ‘So’, dedicated to and riffing off the work of Anna Gibbs, and ‘Words for Snow’:

 What are you thinking
 you say
 hunching down into yourself
 as if I’m thinking snow
 as if this white fizz
 between us
 is a weather
 after all… (65)

That sensitivity was integral to her work as an editor. I published my poetry collections Abracadabra (1993), The Ghost Names Sing (1997), and Ahead of Us (2016) with Fremantle Press, as well as the anthology Wordhord (1989) and the critical study, Tilting at Matilda (1994), working mostly with Ray Coffey and Wendy. I want to focus on Ahead of Us, for which Georgia Richter and particularly Wendy Jenkins were editors. This is a book written during my wife’s experience of ovarian cancer and her subsequent death from the wretched disease (for which there is still no reliable test, let alone a cure). While I was determined that the poems had to work as poems, Georgia and Wendy had to deal with an author still in the throes of grief. They were able to bring a reader’s perspective outside my personal situation, for which I was (and am) extremely grateful. One feature of the book comes from Wendy’s suggestion—one I would never have thought of. I had ordered the poems not in the order in which they were written but according to the progression of the disease. Wendy saw in this a narrative and, knowing my earlier work, suggested including a few poems from previous collections. These gave some indications of our relationship b.c. (before cancer); I would never have dared suggest republication even if I had thought of it, but Wendy saw that (after many discussions) in their new context the seven poems had a slightly different meaning.

Wendy Jenkins was arguably the best poetry editor in Australia. She once wrote, ‘I am not and will never be a sophisticate’. She was Fremantle through and through—the working class Freo before the America’s Cup dolled it up. We could do with more people as unsophisticated as her.

Works Cited

Jenkins, Wendy. Rogue Equations, Fremantle: Fremantle Arts Centre Press, 2000

In Memory of Poet Wendy Jenkins

John Kinsella

Wendy Jenkins was a poet who always put the poets she mentored and edited first and foremost. But she was able to do this because she was a poet of consummate facility and artistry. She deeply believed in the design of a poem, and was fascinated by the existential questions behind the making of art, the making of a poem. Her poems are about poise and risk, balance and threat—they are often a series of negotiations with contradiction, and she asks many of the same questions an artist asks of space; in her case, the space of the page: the terror of the blank, the rabbit hole of the waiting white page.

Above and beyond all other things, Wendy was a poet of the image. I remember her saying in the late ’80s that her idea of a perfect poem was Caroline Caddy’s ‘Pelican’ and its last lines ‘practice sawing each other / in half’, which as a definition of a pair of pelicans preening shifts the focus of ‘nature’ into the realm of human perceptions and human shock (the opposite of the pelicans’ intentions, we might assume). Imagery built out of disjunctions that nonetheless smoothly segue into shape, into form. Caddy’s ‘Pelican’ uses the extended metaphor of illusion via a ‘conjurer’ (the pelican) who is playing tricks, and that slippage between what is and how we might perceive and describe in figurative language in order to evoke an intensified sense of the ordinary is what focussed the poem for Wendy. And it was a quality she observed in very different ways in her own poetry.

Wendy Jenkins was the most formal of poets, but one very willing to experiment formally. In a sequence entitled ‘Caddy in Antarctica’ from her second collection, Rogue Equations (2000), Jenkins vicariously experiences Caddy’s journey to Antarctica (about which Caddy herself wrote a book of poetry), and folds it into acts of reading across distance and unfamiliarity (but being familiar with the poet, her friend), questioning ‘ways of seeing’:

 So tell me
 about the snow
 & ice
 does the shocking
 your line do
 your words clump
 together for
 a little
 warmth? (26)

There’s humour, but also serious intent about how a poem can or can’t represent experience, observation.

And if the image was paramount for Jenkins, so were all other questions of prosody: a metaphor was so powerful, so embodied it could commit ‘Metaphor murder (a thriller)’, but it could also heal and embody love. The metaphor was a thriller, and Jenkins a forensic scientist of words. Her science was to scour the scene, collect the evidence, analyse, and lay out a report. The poems become enactments of analysis that has often taken place over an extended period of time. A poem might have arrived quickly or slowly, but it would be pondered over and sculpted, while its context for exposure to the world would be heavily considered. The two-part poem ‘White Dreams’, of which ‘Metaphor Murders (a thriller)’ is the second part, rounds us back to that existential crisis of the blank page, of elusive inspiration, of threatening nothingness that is distracted by desire, sexuality and threat:

 from far away
 you realise

 marks on the clean white sheets

 you have committed metaphor murder (75)

In a way, Jenkins takes us into the slant world of inspiration, into the metatext beyond Ted Hughes’s ‘Thought Fox’. She was always looking for the rogue, the surprise, the quiet shock in a poem—not loud, but potent… something that catches the breath mid-reading. Control and surprise and control.

Wendy Jenkins was a poet of volition, and a reader of volition as well. Her poems are often about acts of writing and reading, and as a manuscript assessor and editor the act of reading ultimately comes first. She was known to comment that poetry writing had to take a back seat because of her deep personal and professional investment in the work of poets she supported, and that was absolutely the case, but there’s more to the picture than this. Wendy took her poetry seriously, and after a long hiatus post the release of her first book, the twenty-nine-page Out of Water into Light (1979), she noted that she underwent a resurgence of poetic creativity from the mid-’90s through to 2000 when her brilliant, defining collection Rogue Equations was published. This philosophical work is about space and language, about place and the perspective that might be drawn on relationships and even spirituality from observer to observed. It is a book of configuring. It is also a book of very controlled chance.

Many might think Wendy let poetry writing take a back seat again after the release of this book, but she was always working poetically, even when she was writing her prose works or editing books (behind the scenes or as editor of anthologies), and her modus operandi was that of a poet: she perceived the world through the intricacies and mutability of language. Occasionally, I would convince Wendy to send me poems for something I was editing, and often they would surprise (her prose-poem ‘Prologue’ piece is a stunning example—and it has a moment where she riffs off a notion of John Mateer’s, another of the poets she mentored and edited from first book onwards).

In 2008, Alvin Pang and I published two poems of Wendy’s in the anthology in Over There: Poems from Singapore and Australia (2008). What surprised me was that both poems seemed to come from Rogue Equations, but on a close read I realised that one of them, though bearing the same title, was completely different from that collected in her book. Part one of the poem ‘White Dreams’ from Rogue Equations is entitled ‘Classical Perspective (a romance)’:

 Classical perspective’s
 a thing of the past

 providing only
 a seeming

 but I want
 to lie
 down with you
 on a white sheet
 at the point where all lines

 and be captured
 by an old master
 of his measure

 and be held there



 as your flesh tones
 deepen and convince
 (can I say just once that
 they become you)

 until smiling
 like the Mona Lisa
 you slide
 across the sheet
 to me

 a roseate arm
 (plump, perfect)

 and pull
 the horizon
 down (72-73)

and what I received and we published goes:

 Classical Perspective (a romance)

 I want to lie
 with you
 on a white sheet
 at the point where all lines

 and be captured
 by an old master
 of his measure

 and be held there



 as your flesh tones
 deepen and convince
 (can I say just once
 that they become you?)

 until smiling
 like the Mona Lisa
 you slide
 across the sheet
 to me

 raise a roseate arm
 (plump, perfect)

 and pull the horizon
 down (93-94)

So, across the years this minimalist poem had been whittled down ever further, to find its almost perfect balance. As Wendy used to say (even if we/I didn’t always listen!), it’s the words you leave out… She was always thinking about her poems, and how she’d written and would write them.

It is not surprising that as a result of a year in Europe when she was in her mid-’20s, Wendy developed a passion for the French language, and I recall during the Roe 8 protests, where we managed to spend a fair amount of time with Wendy, that she was looking forward to one day returning to France. She and Tracy (whom she had also edited, of course) conversed in French, which Wendy switched to Anglo-Saxon expletives as the machinery mowed down the bush. We were all outraged and determined along with many others to put a stop to this ecocide. With a long commitment to left politics, Wendy found a particular focus for the ‘local’ and environment in resisting the Barnett government’s push to destroy the sacred Beeliar wetlands/bush of Walliabup.

And poetry was an active part of her resistance. She, James Quinton and I co-wrote a sequence of poems against this ecological bastardry and ‘got it out’ among the people at the protest site/s. In making these poems, Wendy was collaborating and also being herself, and the intertextual subtextual resonating mode of creativity suited her writerly poetics. I say this to point out the omnipresence of the poet, as well as critic-editor. At the end of this piece, I will give a sample of one of these protest poems.

One of my favourite ‘mid-period’ Jenkins poems is the ‘Cultivation of Lemons’, which opens: ‘The first poem thinks / it is about the weather’ (33). What I love about this is the way the lines discuss lines which are poems and branches. As we move through the one poem which is four poems, the one tree which is four branches, we arrive at the fourth which is about lemons.

There’s a metonymy of creativity that draws on the natural world, on ideas of art, on abstraction to make concrete, to make visible. Images work in a lattice of ideas about making, seeing, reading, writing and just experiencing the world around us. ‘Weather’ is a frequent in Jenkins’ poetry because it’s something we all discuss to varying degrees, and its ‘over-familiarity’ often closes us off to its ontology. It’s the concept of ‘weather’ (as opposed to ‘climate’) that Jenkins is considering as literary trope, as philosophy of presence, of persistent strangeness. Are what we think and what we experience the same thing? And what does the writing of them do to them, if anything? Writing is an act of translation and metamorphosis. Jenkins quotes from René Char as an epigraph to Rogue Equations: ‘the gods are in metaphor’. Her work is about translation of abstraction into the visible, the concrete, the structured, ontology into language. Poems give a kind of certainty where there is no certainty.

‘The Cultivation of Lemons’ was originally published in the first issue of Salt magazine in June 1990, and that’s what brings me to the very personal side of this piece—knowing and working with Wendy from the late 1980s. Wendy and her then partner Mary Wright were integral to the energy behind the launch of Salt magazine. Wendy is listed as ‘editorial adviser’ and Mary as ‘production assistant’ up front in the first issue, but it was more than that—it was an ambience of making. All of us felt that Western Australia was a ‘centre’ and not a ‘periphery’, and that literary energy was in abundance. There was also close dialogue between different art-forms, and Wendy being a lifelong Fremantle person (or very nearby) was a strong believer in reading the place one lived in.

Over time, this manner of reading would segue in broader cultural contexts with a recognition of the primacy of Indigenous readings of place, but it was also understanding the settler construct we were embedded in, and the complexities of belonging and alienation that entailed. So, it was always about the local. Salt was intended to be an internationalist journal run out of the local—to embody all the many ‘heres’ and the very many ‘theres’.

Salt had to support itself in the beginning with advertising, and Wendy and Mary were the first to help out—inside front cover: ‘Wright Jenkins ARTICLES arts management & consultancy Mary Wright & Wendy Jenkins giving value to the arts…’ It was about community supporting each other, and that they did in numerous ways. And this prompts another personal subtext: gardening. Wendy had selected (from the ‘slush pile’) my first full-length book Night Parrots, and then edited it, and we’d developed a rapport during that process (a whole tale in itself), and at the time I was struggling with addiction while in a relationship that had welcomed a child around the same time… and my partner and I were really broke. So Wendy and Mary paid me to garden at their house opposite Memorial Park in Fremantle. We had great social, political and literary discussions, and I wrote a poem for Wendy entitled ‘Plumburst’. A poem about ontology and reality, a poem that revolved around a central image that I hoped then branched into other possibilities. Poetry was central to our discussion. As was gardening.

The ease and clarity of Wendy’s diction in her poetry ‘disguises’ (remember, the thriller, the dramatic is never far away from the calmest of Jenkins poems) its complex questions. She worked hard to achieve that. And she herself could be a complex person to interact with. Often things were warm and full of laughs (she was incredibly witty—and that wit underpins the tone of her most ‘pure’ images as much as the conversational moments in her poems), but sometimes umbrage could be taken, and things could take a sudden turn into misunderstanding. And in my alcoholic days I could be prone to misreading as well, and also triggering concerns and anxieties I was insensitive to, so we had our odd bumps and scrapes on the way to clarity.

Sometimes I tried to encourage Wendy (especially in the late ’90s across the distance from Cambridge to Perth) to proffer poems for this or that project I was editing, but she delivered as she chose and when she could—she would not be rushed. She knew her own pace. I know of two sequences of poems in Rogue Equations that literally took years to form. Sometimes (before we left for Cambridge) she would recite lines from memory (she was excellent at this), with all the poise and soft-voiced emphasis that would mark those sequences years later at their completion. The kernel would stay the same but grow short line by short line. An idea would have her, and she’d revolve around it. Speaking of Cambridge, Wendy at one stage planned to visit us and do some readings and editorial work there, but couldn’t raise the funding.

I remember a classic Wendy moment when she was starting to formulate her deft sequence ‘Dolphin sightings’… she said to me, ‘You write the ‘Canning River’ (Djarlgarra) and I write the ‘Swan’ (Djerbarl Yerrigan) down around Fremantle… but on this occasion I am starting at Deep Water Point’ (where I’d in fact spent a lot of time as a child). I said, ‘The rivers aren’t ours, Wendy…’ and she said, ‘Of course not, but when I work with poets I like to make the lines of writing clear.’ What’s telling about this is that she was always conscious of the creative spatialities of ‘her’ poets, and wanted to stay out of their way… and she also wanted those poets to stay out of hers where possible. It wasn’t about owning the river—she knew as well as I that the river was Noongar boodja—it was about how we experience and write our lives as poet of specific places, constructed or ‘natural’ or otherwise.

There are dozens of stories I could tell that would illuminate some of the many facets of the poet’s personality as it segues with a poetics, but really the purpose of this piece is to mark the passing of a major poet who never really put herself forward. Wendy’s feminist politics were inherent to her poetics, as was her claiming of a language of sensuality in poems outside male-gaze romantic constructs. Wendy’s lesbian/gay poetics aren’t obvious, but they are deeply relevant to the reading of her poems. The life outside the social normative, that is actually also quite familiar, quite suburban, quite village-orientated. And she was a member of various villages that were interlinked, and that have their own stories as well as shared ones. Sometimes, in the early days, I stumbled (or lumbered) into a dynamic that I wasn’t part of, but it usually worked out.

Wendy worked with so many writers, but she worked with them all in different ways. She was skilled at honing a particular facet or characteristic of a writer’s ‘voice’, but she was also skilled at finding in another writer what might work collaboratively. It is too easy to forget that she collaborated in so many ways, that her voice was part of many arts moments and events in Western Australia, and Perth and Fremantle in particular, over decades and decades. She didn’t make a show of it, but she also (privately) knew if her contribution wasn’t being properly respected. Complex.

One anecdote I feel I must share… when I was editing Landbridge (1999), I had a great selection of Jenkins poems therein and ready to go to proofs… alas, to find that when it went into production, she’d removed herself ‘because she’d acted as consultant editor’. I acted as editor and included myself, which she thought fine (and had encouraged), but she wouldn’t say the same of herself. She should have.

In the same way, when she had edited a poet (or writer in general), and felt they would benefit from working with another editor after a certain point, she would manage things so that happened. In my case, Wendy ‘passed me on’ to John Forbes after my first two Fremantle Press books, but always kept an eye on the way things were going. One time John was over in Perth, and we all met at the place he was staying at (one of the UWA colleges), and Wendy turned up a little late—she blamed my direction giving (I was out of it most of the time, so who knows!), and after some flustered moments things settled into a discussion of poets and poetry. That was the way of it.

Poetry was always close. For herself, I know she greatly valued the advice/editorial input of the poet Kevin Hart, certainly with the work on Rogue Equations. An editor is always very particular about who edits their work. Early in her writing life, when she was working at Fremantle Arts Centre and came to the attention of the press’s founder, Ian Templeman, she was affected and influenced by Templeman as poet himself, but also by various poetry workshops held at the centre. Poetry was about community, as ‘private’ an art-form as it is (and it was that for her, too). In the Western Australia of the ’60s, ’70s and ’80s there weren’t many degrees of separation, and influence swirls into the concretion of poems. My Year Eleven literature teacher in Geraldton was Bill Green, and in 2017 Wendy wrote to me: ‘…Did you know Bill Green and I were at school together and have been friends in words for more than 50 years? I did the sums on my way to meet him yesterday.’ (email to author)

The interconnectedness of communities that seem so ‘different’ in obvious ways has always interested me. And the same with individuals so different, and yet sharing some things in such profound ways. Wendy Jenkins and Fay Zwicky were such different poets, and yet they breathed a proximate air… the sea breeze crossing Fremantle before it reached Fay up the river in Claremont. But poets are so aware of each other! In the wonderful poetry anthology Quarry edited by Zwicky and published by Fremantle Arts Centre Press in 1981, Zwicky wrote of Jenkins’s ten-part sequence ‘Names’: ‘Wendy Jenkins explores the psychic dimensions of her inner world, setting up a ‘sense of space’ responsive to language as she perceives the limits of its powers’ (iv). With typical acuity, Zwicky captures an essential trait of Jenkins’s poetry across the decades: the concern with what constitutes the limits of space, perception and ultimately the shape and nature of the poem itself. Wendy’s father worked on the wharves, her mother was a Silver Chain nurse, and she and her twin sister and brother grew up within the slippage between ‘old Fremantle’ and ‘new Fremantle’:

 Before I was born
 there were stables here,
 Fowler’s stables full of working horses.
 In teams of two they pulled their loads.
 Across the road was the house my grandfather built;
 that his young years worked from the limestone reef
 that underran the land,
 cutting him off from deep intention. (127)

Locality that changes but remains as memory to be retold, reconfigured. Loss and replacement. Who is there now, and who has gone. In poetry, past and present become embodied in the binding of image to image, the narrative around those images. A belonging, but also one cut off from the deepest layers of time (ultimately, persistently, and eternally Noongar time, however the ‘settlers’ might resist it).

As the years went by, Jenkins’s poetry became very much about reduction; minimising narrative frameworks to suggestions and evocation. The poem is the liminal space… the crossing over between the real world and the represented world of art. The sequence ‘Names’ is almost an early ars poetica, though she doesn’t yet fully realise the potential of her signifying (later) minimalism; but traces are there amongst the expanse of the parts. There are moments she’d likely have deleted or rewritten later (maybe she did?), but there are many moments that are exactly as she would surely have wanted them to remain. Influences of T. S. Eliot, William Carlos Williams, and the ‘new poetry’ of America sound out, but they are sublimated into the local, into Wendy’s perception of the world around her. Horses (a major image), ‘zoned parks and recreation’, ‘chain swing, fixed bar swing and slide’, ‘game’, ‘river’, place’, and what these things say about who the poet is, who they can be. It’s a mystery, an investigation, a patterning of language on the page, spoken out. And what’s incredible to me is that over forty years after publishing ‘Names’, Wendy was still a person of the same locality. We might say ‘you can’t come back’, but she can, and she does in the poems.

In Twelves for the Twelfth Night: Poems in support of the Beeliar Wetlands, Wendy, James and I stated:

for those resisting the destruction of the Beeliar wetlands

Traditionally, the twelfth night of Christmas falls on the fifth or sixth of January and signals the eve of Epiphany, or Epiphany itself. Shakespeare’s Twelfth Night and ours were written in the spirit of twelfth night entertainments, and Malvolio figures large, whether as an antagonist come to grief through greed, delusion and crazy ambition, or a here-to-now quiet road in Coolbellup that woke to find a major highway mapped across its vitals.

Our Twelfth Night was triggered by the wonderful and occasionally bizarre use of Shakespearean characters as street names in Coolbellup, including Cordelia Avenue, Romeo and Juliet streets (which never meet) and Malvolio, poor Malvolio, which only ever wanted to be left in peace, adjoining the best bush block there is.

Each of the twelve poems in our Twelfth Night contains a four-line stanza by each of us.

‘Good fool, help me to some light and some paper…’
Malvolio, Twelfth Night. (4)

And as a farewell, and as a celebration of this unique poet-friend, here’s one of the poems… Wendy’s are the final lines:

 Richard II

 That garden of noisome weeds which suck
 away the profits of the city? Let us instead
 rise to the occasion like the Bell Tower
 or that monument to taming, Elizabeth Quay.

 Oh, that wasn’t your white flag? It’s hard to see,
 the smog thick, we’ll have to use some other trick,
 our lines are busy, please leave a message
 there’s a stadium to build and you’re blocking the passage.

 This sacred place of Whadjuk, this demi-paradise, this fortress
 built by Nature for quenda, tawny frogmouth, marlee.
 This place of families and generations, of coming together,
 this blessed plot, this earth, this realm, these irreplaceable wetlands. (12)

And what means so much to me, and I’ve no doubt others, is the search for communities overlapping with communities: mutual respect, the affirmation of working together, acknowledging, searching for peace, justice and respect. The brilliant imagist had shifted into the collaborative public voice with ease, because under her, images and compacting of language was always the person speaking while backgrounded by people—the special relationship that exists between ‘photographer’ and what’s ‘photographed’, but also what’s outside the frame, beyond the ‘white’ of the page.

Wendy could be a withering social satirist, and she had a deep sense of public duty, but her poems are instances of the private meeting public space; and that private could be so very private. But so is reading, and yet we read in the context of others making, of others speaking and sharing. Maybe there is a resolution to the paradoxes. Maybe in the end it’s ‘seeing’ and ‘hearing’ beyond our physical senses, and living the poem-songs in our sleep as much as our waking lives. Farewell, dear Wendy.

Works Cited

Jenkins, Wendy. Out of Water into Light, Fremantle: Fremantle Arts Centre Press, 1979.

—. ‘The Cultivation of Lemons’, Salt 1.1 (1990): 33.

—. Rogue Equations, Fremantle: Fremantle Arts Centre Press, 2000.

Jenkins, Wendy, John Kinsella and J. P. Quinton. Twelves for the Twelfth Night: Poems in support of the Beeliar Wetlands, York: Shed Under the Mountain Press, 2017.

Kinsella, John (ed). Landbridge: Contemporary Australian poetry, Fremantle: Fremantle Arts Centre Press, 1999.

Kinsella, John and Alvin Pang (eds). Over There: Poems from Singapore and Australia, Singapore: Ethos Books, 2008.

Zwicky, Fay (ed). Quarry, Fremantle: Fremantle Arts Centre Press, 1981.


Georgia Richter has an MA (Creative Writing) from the University of Western Australia and is an IPEd Accredited Editor. She has taught creative writing, professional writing and editing at the universities of Melbourne and Western Australia, as well as at Curtin University. Georgia joined Fremantle Press in 2008 as the fiction, narrative non-fiction and poetry publisher.

Dennis Haskell is the author of 9 collections of poetry, the most recent And Yet… (WA Poets Publishing, 2020) and Ahead of Us (Fremantle Press, 2016), plus 14 volumes of literary scholarship and criticism. Haskell was Co-editor of Westerly from 1985-2009 and is a Senior Honorary Research Fellow at The University of Western Australia.

John Kinsella‘s most recent books include the first two volumes of his collected poems (The Ascension of Sheep, UWAP, 2022 and Harsh Hakea, UWAP, 2023), the short story collection Pushing Back (Transit Lounge, 2021), and Legibility: an antifascist poetics (Palgrave, 2022).

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  1. Brendan Murray says:

    Wendy, like me, is a 4th generation Freoite. Her dad (Campbell) and uncle (Frank/Scrano) were part of the same SFFC “golden years” football teams in the 40s/50s as my father. WJ edited my first two books (Tev 2001 & Tev 2004 Freo Press), the first of which was shortlisted for the WA Premier’s Book Awards. I was rapt to get Wendy to Christmas Island to run some workshops in 2002. Leti and I recently enjoyed a coffee with Wendy in Freo when she described her current challenge with reworking a plot twine. RIP Wen. Leti & Brendan Murray

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