SONGS FOR LONGING - The Poems Of Dawson Hann.

by Jack Howard

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In February 1973, I made my first Broadmeadows line trek from the wilds of Oak Park to the lushness of Wesley College on St. Kilda Road. I felt utterly out of place for awhile but pretty quickly made some good friends and I had one memorable teacher, Dawson Hann, who also started teaching there in 1973.
He's still there and so am I 42 years later (!!).
Dawson is a legend of the school - smart, caring, compassionate, funny, full of wisdom. He taught English and started the Adamson Theatre Company with Tony Scanlon (R.I.P.).
I started teaching there again after Hunters and Collectors broke up in 1998.
A few years ago, Dawson gave me some manuscripts of his poetry. Beautiful poetry. Down to earth, relevant, passionate, Australian, sometimes with an eyebrow arched. It was a bit of a revelation.
So I decided put some of them to music. These eight tracks are the results.
Hope you enjoy them.


released August 8, 2015

Music - Jack Howard
Words - Dawson Hann



all rights reserved


Jack Howard Melbourne, Australia

Jack Howard played trumpet with Hunters and Collectors and for the last fifteen years, he's been releasing his own highly- regarded CDs. Along the way, he's also played with Midnight Oil, The Living End, The Violent Femmes, Rodriguez, The Break, You Am I, Little Red, Pete Murray and a host of others. He also teaches music and throws the shot put. ... more

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It’s with us always, this longing,
A renewable mystery, clinging,
Stretching like a sinew across the years,
Attaching us, as a muscle binds,
To whatever in the past we thought we were;
Before the onset of the usual fears.
It’s lived pain, make no mistake,
As real as the throb of bruised tissue;
No imagined anguish this, for some severance
From what was thought complete, once.
Just the dull sadness of the body’s ache.

And for what? To discover, perhaps,
In the hollow of the self, a sense
Of what connects in us, how strands of time
Can help explain the metaphysics of tense;
(I was, and now I am).
Nor is it, like desire, so easily fed;
It’s past the flesh of appetite, more exquisite;
The intense remembrance of something done,
Or said.
You’ll find it in the smell of things,
Feel it in the tautness of the throat;
In a shiver of light once seen which wings
Across a lifetime to settle in the head.

Impossible to explain, it’s the sound
Of familiar voices in a foreign place;
And vanishing shadows, where we search
For images of the past; or vagrant thoughts
Collecting as a half-remembered face.
It’s stronger than love, this yearning, and lasts
Much longer. We can’t assuage it,
Or shrink the distance between us and it;
It’s the rickety link to a thousand pasts.

Across a dark sound, at the end of a dock,
It might be the wink of a green light;
Or more unreachable even than that,
Traversing time, to deliver you past
The outposts of memory’s usual flight.

“I long for…”
Say it, and a melancholy strikes
Too deep for words; and then you know
What Gibrain’s Prophet knew; that
Our children are not our own,
But simply life longing for itself;
And by this truth are we thought to grow.

Melbourne, September 2002

On September the eleventh, in America,
In the first true year of the millennium,
I watched on television men and women
Jumping to their actual deaths.
Two hundred, perhaps, though the bodies
Weren’t for counting in the final rubble.
Each decided the manner of their execution:
Incineration (apocalypse style), or free fall
Into the waiting gift of air.
All this was later denied, foolishly.
One became famous. A single frame
Extracted from the grim cinema
Of all these dives of death.
He became known as The Falling Man;
Upside down, his splayed legs
Dancing a cruel parodic dance of flight.
His context was circumscribed; the tower
Not yet down, all you see is the mosaic
Of sky-scraper windows; no fear-whitened faces
Distract from him. The building’s wound,
The blackening smoke, is out of frame.
To this day, no one knows his name.

He fell before the tower, prepared its way.

A hundred or so floors of concrete and steel
Followed his path; his tomb Ground Zero:
The apotheosis of erasure, nullity.
He lay like the tens of million others,
In the Somme, Dresden, Kampuchea,
Unmarked, “known only to God.”
He is both the hero and the victim
Of these times; for all of us he falls,
Always, upended into the air’s indifference.

July, 2006

Coming home at Christmas,
Chasing a western sun, I reach Kaniva,
Last of the Wimmera wheat towns,
And feels like it too,
When you’ve made hard miles to get there;
Shunned once more by spring rains,
Perhaps thought unworthy, being that close
To the edge of elsewhere.

Bethlehem might have been a dump too,
Equally unsuited to miracles.

In Kaniva, a shagged-out sigh
For the season of nativity
Is miracle enough itself;
On stooped verandah posts
Tied tinsel hangs like threads
Torn from a lost pageant.

On one house, snow edges windows
Smeared with the grime
Of dust and flies; underneath,
A dilapidated cardboard Santa,
Wired to God knows where,
Winks its lights at the day’s brightness.

Out front, a sign announces:
“Upholsteries done – Free Quotes”;
A face peers hopefully, just glimpsed
Darkly, through stained glass.
There’s doubtless good trade here,
Re-stuffing unstitched things.

And a rusty warning on next door’s gate:
“Bewar of the Do..”
But the yard is as silent as absent letters.

Further west along the highway
You reach the Tatiara, “the good country”.
Though hardly blessed, the gums here
Are sparse but strong, a place more propitious
For landing, parking and hitching a sleigh.

No lowing livestock can be detected, though,
Or mangers worth stopping for on your way.

Adelaide, January 2001.
Track Name: SEQUENCE

For Tony, and those other times

I was vacuuming sequins for weeks afterwards.
We’d thought her a stunner, of course, her glitzy hip-hugger
Shedding sequins like “the apotheosis of all Madams”;
She snaked through the party, leaving a trail that winked at us,
Shimmery scales gleaned from some ancient other thing;
She was untouchable Eve to our rampant Adams.

The next day he told us the truth, bravely;
We were younger then, in the Seventies, than we knew.
Time to find out things weren’t as they seemed.
It was a guy, he said. That gorgeous sequined she a he?
There was a serpent between her legs after all,
And it stung me hard, in a way you’ve scarcely dreamed.

Those snake scale sequins, how I sucked them up, furious,
Heard them jangling in the tube, knew that later I’d find
Them sparkling in the emptied dust; and that later still
They’d be floating mocking tempting in the awakening mind.

Melbourne, June 2001.
Track Name: GHOST TOWN

We’re thinking, how bloody-minded that was,
A freezing night camped on the treeless plain;
What’s our reason this time, our “because”,
Except a way to confirm a place and name?

There are six of us in Cook that morning
(Not counting our dog and two resident cats);
The town’s still there for trains on the line out west;
Its skeleton staff dons way too many hats.

We watch as the Indian Pacific makes its visit,
Bringing to this ghost town of the Nullarbor
A host of fresh souls who, finding no shop,
Dolefully ask: what, then, are we stopping for?

To sift among the ruins for a life that was,
You need first an imagination, and a mind
That hears the cries of kids in the empty school,
And sees the pub a camera cannot find.

They wander, plainly lost, these urbanites
For whom real life is somewhere far from here;
Clearly, there’s nothing to buy, to take back home.
What place is true, that has no souvenir?

So our kelpie dog is photographed, an image
Suitable for a town to be remembered by;
“I can’t recall the place, but here’s its dog…”
Who says a “Kodak moment” cannot lie?

September, 2005.

They’re tiny humiliations, out of the blue;
Spills mostly, shapeless, but maps all the same
To track a hand less steady, a mind less tame;
From these you avert the eyes, in these you

Sense the discomfort of others, those who
Probably think you’re letting yourself go,
Not to be taking more care, not to know
Why stains of age must be kept from public view,

Being, as they are, unedifying, to say the least.
They’re like the dribbles of a child, but less
Tolerable; newness excuses a child’s mess;
These nuisances should long ago have ceased.

You will be spoken to about this as “a new phase”:
Best accept and manage, you’re told, each tell-tale sign,
Of renegade tomato, the tear-drop speck of wine,
That dumbfounding streak of mayonnaise.

But they’re wrong, you see; we are from youth
Shamed by stains. From pyjamas soiled in sleep,
To darker, insidious marks which creep
Even now, from deep within, to proclaim their truth:

This is what you are, a vessel of leaking parts,
So deal with them, the rank and rancid spillages
Emblazoned on shirts and pants, daily pillagers
Of a prim respectability once confidently the heart’s;

Instead, read like tea leaves what stains might mean.
They are life coming to the surface, old lacerations
Seeping through, authentic ruptures, not aberrations;
A patch-work of the years accrued, demanding to be seen.

March, 2006
That’s it, I see it now, there’s the rub;
Not the plain truth of their plight,
The flight
From God Knows What,
God Knows Where;
It’s the boat, the leaky tub,
That’s what we fear –
(Less that they should be there -
Wherever that is-
Rather than here).
We’re disabled by the boat,
And are like the boat;
Atavism at work, it’s clear.
Noah’s hierarchical ark;
The Roman galleys,
(Misery kept those afloat);
The vexatious Vikings
(Progenitors of terror’s craft);
The shameful cargo of slave ships:
Distress binds both ships and sea.
The horror of Medusa’s raft*
Pared us back to the dark within.
So can we be sure
That these too have not succumbed
To the same unimaginable,
irredeemable sin?

Why can’t they do the acceptable thing?
Come by plane?
Alight from a train?
An orderly arrival, neat and clean.
But boats?
Too much flesh scorched
By sun, shrunk by rain.
A condition better not seen.
You might think they’d show
Some sensitivity; would know
That we too have reason to flee:
From all those ugly things
That once crawled, oh, way back,
From out of the sea.

October 2009.

* The survivors of the shipwrecked Medusa, the subject of Gericault’s great painting, allegedly ate human flesh.

When Dylan went electric we solemnly stashed
Our acoustic twelve strings, the old banjo
With the broken string, along with our best hopes,
In cupboards cleared for the purpose; thought it best
To keep from sight the emblems of all that purity
Lost in a single electronic calamity; floundered in
Our own ground zero, finding no freshness there
Of Appalachian air, no diamond skies, those
Jingle jangle mornings yielding to new hard dawns;
Reached disconsolate understanding such things must be;
The world moves on, now is soon enough history,
And there is disconnecting in all you touch or see.

When Dylan went electric all that hard rain
Started falling, just as he said it would, though
How much harder sounding than when strummed,
And only the bleak harmonica wailing pain;
All those apocalyptic visions no longer contained
By a concert stage, instead his gravelled voice
A sad anticipation of his country’s annihilating rage.
How right they seem now, those scarring chords,
The thud of drums, warning how Tet was on the way,
Villages bombed to stone-age rectitude, jelly flamed
On human skin, and insisting how silly our indignation,
Thinking songs sweetly sung are alone worth veneration.

When Dylan went electric the sky didn’t fall, well
Not immediately, but crowds wall to wall swelled streets,
Universities burned, and old songs; and new ones
Were lit in innocent hearts, inflaming mothers, fathers,
Vice chancellors, who proclaimed winds blew ill
Which brought no answers; all music spilled from bands
Like rolling stones, gathered significance like moss;
In Greenwich Village homosexuals stonewalled, jeered
At hyper-sexed police, and announced enough’s enough.
And the songs of the guitar electric became the songs
Of the body eclectic; all songs reach consequence,
Tell us finally what might, might not, make sense.

January, 2006.