Papers of Dawson Jackson and Papers relating to Dawson Jackson and Joan Hart

Scope and Content

After his death in 1994 the archive which Jackson accumulated during his lifetime was bequeathed to his daughter Unity Harrington who, in turn, donated the archive to The John Rylands University Library in March 1998. The archive came to the Library in two accessions. The first was acquired directly from the poet's house in St John's Wood, London, whilst the second accession was acquired from Julia Harrington, Dawson Jackson's granddaughter, in December 2000.

When Jackson was seventy-five in 1985, he undertook a complete revision of the corpus of his work and set this material aside for posterity as the 'entire presentable opus'. This was given into the custody of Julia Harrington for safekeeping and represents the material in the second accession. It comprises: manuscripts and typescripts of literary works; and Jackson's copy of Walt Whitman's Complete Poetry and Selected Prose and Letters (London: Nonesuch Press, 1938) and Thomas Brackley's [Dawson Jackson's] annotated copy of From this Foundation (London: Harvell Press, 1949). The original arrangement of this material as set out by Jackson in his Complete Catalogue of Verse and Prose (ref: JDJ/1/3/1/42 ), has been retained.

The archive contains a broad range of material generated by Jackson during the course of his life, which reflects every aspect of his writing over a seventy-year period as well as containing important biographical information. The first accession of material comprises: a large quantity of correspondence (personal and literary); manuscripts (poetry and prose) including drafts and typescripts from all stages of the writing process; appointment diaries, booklets; newscuttings; publishers' files; and printed materials. In addition, this accession contains some of the Papers of Joan Hart which Dawson Jackson embedded within his own Papers after her death in 1984.

Jackson's Literary Estate and the holder of copyright in all his published and unpublished works is Unity Harrington. This will be continued by Unity's daughter Julia in due course. The reproduction or publication of any of Jackson's own papers must be made with Unity's permission. It is also the reader's responsibility to obtain the relevant copyright holder's permission for the reproduction of other material in the archive.

Significant individuals represented in the archive include: John Lehmann, John Middleton Murry, Richard Church, Harriet Monroe, Victor Gollancz, Charles Williams, Herbert Read, Edmund Blunden, Tambimuttu, Joy Scovell, Anne Tibble, Stephen Spender, Cyril Connolly, Janet Adam Smith, and Anne Ridler.

The Archive is of research potential in the following areas of study: Language and Literatures in English and its Histories (including poetry, prose and criticism); Writing and its Histories; History of the Book, Printing and Publishing; Africa and its Literatures, Cultures and Histories; The Americas, their Literatures, Histories and Cultures; Biography, Life Writing, Self Representation and Autobiography; Colonial and Postcolonial Histories; Broadcasting and its Histories; Environmental Science and its Histories; Philosophy and Intellectual History; Politics, Political History and Political Economy; and War and its Histories.

Administrative / Biographical History

Dawson Jackson regarded the art of writing poetry as a lifelong vocation. For him it was the medium through which alienated human beings, living within the fragmented chaos of modern societies, could apprehend the spiritual concept of unity 'which saw no separation between inner and outer worlds; between subjective and objective; between the poetry, the philosophy and the private life of the poet.' On his death in 1994 he left behind a corpus of work, crafted over a period of seventy years which amounted to more than 10,000 pages of verse and many volumes of prose and fiction. His work in prose was often published under the pseudonym Thomas Brackley.

He was born in Wallasey on the Wirral in 1910, the second of four children from a middle class background. He was educated at Oundle and, at the age of seventeen, he went up to Oxford to read Modern History at Christ Church where he graduated with a first class degree, and was the first graduate to be awarded a small grant (£3 per week) for living expenses to enable him to write poetry for a period of two years.

Although he was a contemporary of W.H. Auden and Stephen Spender, he rejected their poetic agenda. His poetry was published sporadically in journals like the New Statesman and Adelphi.

Choosing to defy social convention he lived with the painter and potter Marial Russell spending his time writing poetry. After this relationship ended he married his friend and fellow poet Phoebe Ashburner. Early married life was hard since Jackson saw wealth as an anathema. Throughout the 1930s he practised a life of self-sufficiency growing his own food on a small-holding and bartering for other provisions. His ecological views developed over time into an expansive and complex ecological doctrine well in advance of the Green Movement. They find their finest articulation in Against Destruction (published most recently by Carcanet Press in 1984).

In 1937 Jackson's daughter Unity was born, which led him to seek paid employment to supplement the family income by working for Charles Elton, who ran an ecological research programme at the Bureau of Animal Population in Oxford. After spending six months single-mindedly learning Russian he worked as a translator. During the Second World War he was a conscientious objector and his experiences of this are memorably recorded in his unpublished work Out of Step, A Diary of a Conscientious Objector, 1939-1940.

After the war he divorced his wife and married radio actress Joan Hart. They established their home in London's St John's Wood where he would be occupied for up to six months of the year writing poetry. The rest of his time was spent travelling extensively across continents, working as a translator of Russian and French for a wide range of organizations such as the United Nations, UNESCO and the Church of England.

In spite of a prodigious output, Jackson's publication record was sparse and sporadic. His successes appear to have been mainly in the genre of prose writing including From This Foundation, A Primer of Necessary Belief, and Against Destruction. From the sheaves of poetry publishers' rejection letters surviving in his Papers it is clear that Jackson's experimental verse techniques genuinely seem to have intrigued, yet troubled, many of the outstanding British critics and poetry editors throughout the mid- to late-20th century. Stephen Spender, in a letter to Jackson from 2 September 1943, finds the poems 'very readable and amusing. I suppose it is difficult to get a publisher to regard this as "poetry", because the matter and form are not very poetic.' According to Edmund Blunden, 'the form you decided upon baffles me. My antiquity, no doubt: but so far I can respond to these things, I see you wasting a gift because of an eccentricity' (Letter from Blunden to Jackson, 20 March 1942). Herbert Read noted, 'If you know my own attitude to modern poetry you will realise that I am very favourably disposed to experiments in verse techniques, but I must say I cannot find any real justification for your line division...; I find no fault in the expression as such, but you seem to me completely to destroy their poetic effect by your rhythmic "atomism". If you have a justification I would be extremely interested to hear it.'

The fact that a poet whose 'sense of Nature is choice in the detail' and whose poems 'have sensibility and the imagery is vivid' should persist in the use of apparently wayward forms implies a resolute, deliberate adherence to a particular poetic vision. Evidently, Dawson Jackson is a modern poet whose poetic line lacks recurring metrical patterns and rhymes. In short his poems are written in free verse, yet the style of the free verse he favours arises from a tradition to which the ears of British critics and publishers were still unattuned in the mid 20th century. His prosody is a unique blending of certain strands of the Anglo-American poetic traditions as exemplified in the work of William Blake and Walt Whitman. Significantly Jackson acknowledged the influence of both these poetic masters early in his apprenticeship as a poet.

Blake and Whitman affected me strongly. From Whitman I took the long line, or Whitman allowed me to take it. Comically enough this later turned, with me, into the very short line. Blake the vision. Whitman the visualness.

Blake's commitment to the idea of 'variety in every line' relates to his vision of poetry as a revolutionary, liberating force as well as being concerned with the technicalities of its formal virtuosities. Whilst Whitman's experiments in language shattered the measured line of the poem he inherited from the English poetic tradition as a means of accommodating the American idiom.

The work of Blake and Whitman exemplifies particular qualities of modern poetics (with respect to form and content), which Jackson knowingly assimilated and used as a paradigm for his work. Yet there is another American poet whose work Jackson's poetry appears to have affinities with, namely, William Carlos Williams. Although the two were closer in age they were not known to each other personally. Still, the waywardness of their verse forms shares a predilection for the use of minimal lineation. As the poet and critic Jeffrey Wainwright has noted:

The general movement of "free verse" then is towards a democratic informality that has a more flexible rhythm and a wider, more colloquial, range of words. Once freed of measure the line has gone in two main directions. One has been towards minimalism, reduction, and the other towards expansiveness and spread.

William Carlos Williams and Dawson Jackson both favour the former solution in their work. What is of especial interest in Jackson's case is that this paring down of language to its barest elements, preferring semantic content to syntactic connection, is generally perceived by critics as culturally and linguistically a particular quality of American poetry.

It is possible that the poetry of Dawson Jackson represents an early example of a phenomenon which became more prevalent by the close of the 20th century, whereby a confident American poetic tradition exerted its influence over its British counterpart. Ultimately, it was Michael Schmidt at Carcanet Press who finally agreed to publish Jackson's poems. Born into an American family and steeped in the twin traditions of American and British Literatures, Schmidt was attuned to the possibilities of the music of Jackson's verse and, finally, Jackson found a nourishing and sustaining critical audience.


The archive is currently arranged as follows: 

  • JDJ/1 Papers of Dawson Jackson
  • JDJ/1/1 Records relating to Literary Production
  • JDJ/1/1/1 Pocquet Portfolio Set
  • JDJ/1/1/2 'Manuscript' Notebook Set
  • JDJ/1/1/3 'Manuscript' Files
  • JDJ/1/1/4 Printed Booklets
  • JDJ/1/1/5 Published material
  • JDJ/1/2 Literary correspondence
  • JDJ/1/3 Entire Presentable Opus
  • JDJ/1/3/1 'Manuscript' Files
  • JDJ/1/3/2 Published works
  • JDJ/1/4 Personal Papers
  • JDJ/1/4/1 Appointment Diaries
  • JDJ/1/4/2 In-letters from Family and Friends
  • JDJ/1/4/3 In-letters from Mariel Russell
  • JDJ/1/4/4 In-letters from Joan Hart
  • JDJ/2 Papers relating to Dawson Jackson and Joan Hart
  • JDJ/2/1 Records relating to Joan Hart's Literary and Dramatic Works
  • JDJ/2/2 Letter Files relating to Joan Hart and individuals other than Dawson Jackson
  • JDJ/2/3 In-letters from Dawson Jackson to Joan Hart

Access Information

The archive is open to any accredited user subject to the Data Protection Act. This finding aid may contain personal data about living individuals. Under Section 33 of the Data Protection Act 1988 (DPA), The John Rylands University Library (JRUL) holds the right to process such personal data for research purposes. The Data Protection (Processing of Sensitive Personal Data) Order 2000 enables the JRUL to process personal sensitive data for research purposes. In accordance with the DPA the JRUL has made every attempt to ensure that all personal data has been processed fairly, lawfully and accurately.

Individuals have the right to make a request to see data relating to them held by the JRUL which falls under the provisions of the DPA. Access requests must be made formally in accordance with the provisions set out in the DPA, and all enquiries should be directed to University's Data Protection Officer.

Access to some of the items in this collection which contain confidential personal information is restricted.

Acquisition Information

The collection came to The John Rylands University Library in two accessions. The first accession was given by Dawson Jackson's daughter, Unity Harrington in March 1998, this material was acquired directly from the poet's house in St John's Wood, London. The second accession, his 'Entire Presentable Opus', was acquired from Julia Harrington, Dawson Jackson's granddaughter, in December 2000.


Catalogued by Jo Klett and Stella Halkyard, Modern Literary Archivist.

Other Finding Aids


Conditions Governing Use

Copies of material in the archive can be supplied for private study purposes only, depending on the condition of the documents.

All items in the archive remain within copyright under the terms of the Copyright, Designs and Patents Act 1988; it is the responsibility of users to obtain the copyright holder's permission for reproduction of copyright material for purposes other than private study.

Prior written permission must be obtained from the Library for publication or reproduction of any material within the archive. Please contact Dr Stella Butler, Head of Special Collections, The John Rylands University Library, 150 Deansgate, Manchester, M3 3EH.

Related Material

The John Rylands University Library holds the Archive of the Carcanet Press which contains manuscripts, proof copies, letters and other publishing records relating to Dawson Jackson. Letters, proof copies and other publishing records also survive for Joan Hart in the Carcanet Archive especially in relation to Thomas Campion Ayres and Observations: selected poems, Cheadle: Carcanet Press, 1976 which she edited and Malachi Whitaker's The Crystal Fountain and other stories, Manchester: Carcanet Press, 1984 for which she produced an introduction.


  • Dawson Jackson, Selected Poems, edited by Nicola Simpson (Manchester: Lilstock Press in association with Carcanet Press, 2002);
  • Dawson Jackson, Abidjan (Manchester: Lilstock Press in association with Carcanet Press, 1990);
  • Dawson Jackson, Against Destruction (Manchester: Lilstock Press in association with Carcanet Press, 1984);
  • Dawson Jackson, Ice and Orchard (Cheadle: Carcanet, 1973);
  • Dawson Jackson, Darkness and Spring (London: Magpie Press, 1971);
  • Dawson Jackson, A Primer of Necessary Belief (London: Victor Gollancz, 1957);
  • Thomas Brackley [Dawson Jackson], From this Foundation (London: Harvill Press, 1949).

Emma Unsworth, 'A Life's Work', City Life, 464, August-September, 2002.