Edward [Ted] Jenner (1946-8 July 2021) was a friend of mine. I guess one of the things I appreciated most about Ted was his unfailing cheerfulness and unflappability even when things appeared to be going very, very wrong indeed.
Perhaps it was his long years working as a Classics lecturer in Malawi that accustomed him to sudden emergencies, or perhaps it was the hand-to-mouth nature of his life as a writer and teacher in New Zealand, but I never saw him at a loss for a wise and witty thing to say.
I had heard that he was ill, and even in hospital, but I'm sorry to say that the news of his death from cancer in the early hours of Friday morning still came as a shock. He wore his years lightly. He was one of that group of baby-boomer New Zealand poets, all born in 1946, at the close of World War II – Sam Hunt, Bill Manhire, Ian Wedde prominent among them – who've been so influential on our literature.
Much though I always enjoyed chatting to Ted – he was a marvellously learned man, a trained classicist with an expertise in Ancient Greek – I suppose it would be true to say that my only real intimate knowledge of him came through his books. The below is probably not a complete list, but it includes all the titles I myself own:
- A Memorial Brass. Eastbourne, Wellington: Hawk Press, 1980.
- Dedications. Auckland: Omphalos Press, 1991.
- The Love-Songs of Ibykos: 22 Fragments. Images by John Reynolds. Auckland: Holloway Press, 1997.
- Sappho Triptych. Auckland: Puriri Press, 2007.
- Writers in Residence and Other Captive Fauna. Auckland: Titus Books, 2009.
- brief 40 (July 2010). Ed. Ted Jenner. Auckland: Titus Books, 2010.
- The Gold Leaves (Being an Account and Translation from the Ancient Greek of the 'So-Called' Orphic Tablets). Pokeno: Atuanui Press, 2014.
- Complete Gold Leaves: Transcriptions of Sixteen Ancient Greek Gold Lamellae. Compiled with English Translations. Dunedin: Percutio Publications, 2016. [In Bill Direen, ed. Percutio 10: A Special Issue devoted to two projects by Classicist and poet Edward Jenner (2016).]
- The Arrow that Missed. Lyttelton: Cold Hub Press, 2017.
Ted Jenner, ed.: brief the fortieth (2010)
Ted Jenner: The Gold Leaves (2014)
Bill Direen, ed.: Percutio 10: Ted Jenner Issue (2016)
Ted Jenner: The Arrow That Missed (2017)
Looking back, I seem to have written quite a lot about Ted's work over the years:
- There's a brief introduction to it here, on this blog.
- Then there's my review-essay of his Writers in Residence, on the online poetics journal Ka Mate Ka Ora.
- And, more recently, there's my review of The Arrow that Missed from Poetry NZ Yearbook 2018.
I'm not sure that there's any need to repeat all that here. Suffice it to say that for me, Ted Jenner combined the twin virtues of precise, scrupulous scholarship with an equally strong taste for experimental fiction and poetry – not that I think he saw much difference between the two genres, and, the way he wrote, there really wasn't.
I borrowed the title for this piece from his earliest book, A Memorial Brass, exquisitely printed by Alan Loney at the Hawk Press in 1980. I'd like to conclude with some more of Ted's own words, taken from the title poem:
My dear, they call us bourgeois
But it was essentially
A bourgeois thing to do –
An image of conjugal
Faith – to cross the hands over chest
And breast and stand on
The goblin pups, a monumental
For the bloodstream-fevers.
I remember it was cold
That May with added expense, upkeep
of allotment, and late
Spring blooms falling fierce as
Snow on the gale-lashed
Oats. Very soon a priest mumbled eight
Sacrificia patriarchae nostri
Above us. Commenting now on the
Canon of his mass, I
Like to think it was
Easy in Abraham's time –
Knowledge and fear were deliberate
Then, total, without cover; but
As for us, we lie awake
Until the sleeping's over.
My profoundest condolences to Ted's wife, Vasalua. If he were here I'm sure he could find the perfect words to thank her for making the last years of his life perhaps the happiest of all.
As for me, I'd like to say once more Ave atque Vale: Hail and farewell, to one of the finest scholars and poets I've ever known. Perhaps we'll meet again some day, when the sleeping's over.
NZ Herald obituaries:
A service to celebrate Ted's life will be held at the All Souls Chapel, Purewa, 100 St Johns Road, Meadowbank on Tuesday 13 July at 1pm. No flowers by request please but donations to Forest and Bird would be welcome.
You can link to some other tributes to Ted here.