Kate Jennings’s first poetry collection, Come To Me My Melancholy Baby, was published in 1975.
I picked it up 22 years later in an antique shop in Bright, Victoria. I remember the shelf, opening the black hard cover and reading the first poem. I had to have this book. The poetry was raw, honest and far removed from the dead old englishman poetry I was fed at school. I read the book nightly. I shared it with friends. It was my first dip into waters of feminist literature – and I loved it.
Over the years I worked hard at securing as much of Kate Jennings’ work as possible. Reading Save me, Joe Louis I screamed ‘yes!’ into pages about how wonderful, yet damaging, it was to listen to the crescendos of a Dusty Springfield song and take each word as gospel. I nodded and hmmm’ed when I finally tracked down a copy of Mother I’m Rooted. I read her honest introduction and wondered if the path of a female poet had changed in Australia since the 1970’s.
This year Blank Inc published Trouble: Evolution of a Radical, Selected Writings 1970-2010. A tidy collection of Jennings’ work spanning from her speech at a Vietnam rally at Sydney University in 1970 to recent articles for the Monthly. Intermittent commentaries from Jennings join the dots for those of us who have been attempting to link the somewhat autobiographical pieces of Jennings’ work for decades. It shows the breadth of her skill and the multitude of genres and topics explored throughout her career. I am excited that with the publishing of this book a whole new generation of readers will get to admire her work.
What binds a reader to a writer? The moment when you read a work and instinctively know that this has moved you beyond what you can appreciate now. This is how I feel about Jennings. Two years ago I met her at a signing for Stanley and Sophie, her memoir about her life with two border terriers. I sat in the front row as she was interviewed by Elliot Perlman and clenched my teeth at audience members intent on asking only dog-related questions. Surely they must know who she is! Trouble leaves us with no doubt. Jennings is a brilliant writer, economical and precise. This collection provides readers with 40 years of passionate words.