Hahn, Susan 1941-

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Hahn, Susan 1941-


Born November 11, 1941.


Office—TriQuarterly, 629 Noyes St., Evanston, IL 60208-4302.


Poet, playwright, and editor. TriQuarterly magazine, Evanston, IL, editor.


Illinois Arts Council Literary Award, 1980, 1985, 1996, 1997; Society of Midland Authors' award for poetry, 1994, for Incontinence; Illinois Arts Council fellowship in poetry, 1994; George Kent Prize, Poetry, 2000; Pushcart Prize for poetry, 2000, 2003; Guggenheim fellowship, 2003.


(Editor, with Reginald Gibbons) Fiction of the Eighties: A Decade of Stories from TriQuarterly, Tri-Quarterly Books (Evanston, IL), 1990.

Harriet Rubin's Mother's Wooden Hand, University of Chicago Press (Chicago, IL), 1991.

Incontinence, University of Chicago Press (Chicago, IL), 1993.

(Editor, with Reginald Gibbons) TriQuarterly New Writers, TriQuarterly Books (Evanston, IL), 1996.

Confession, University of Chicago Press (Chicago, IL), 1997.

Holiday, University of Chicago Press (Chicago, IL), 2001.

Mother in Summer, TriQuarterly Books (Evanston, IL), 2002.

Self/Pity, Northwestern University Press (Evanston, IL), 2005.

Golf (play), 2005.

The Scarlet Ibis: Poems (see below), Northwestern University Press (Evanston, IL), 2007.

The Note She Left: Poems, Northwestern University Press (Evanston, IL), 2008.

The Scarlet Ibis: Poems was produced as a verse play at the Prop Theater, Chicago, IL, 2007, and at the 16th Street Theater, Berwyn, IL, 2008.


Writer Susan Hahn works as both a poet and a playwright and also serves as the editor for TriQuarterly magazine, which is associated with Northwestern University in Evanston, Illinois, as well as coeditor for the TriQuarterly Press division of the Northwestern University Press. Hahn has been the recipient of a number of awards for her poems, such as a 2003 Guggenheim fellowship. In addition, the Chicago Tribune included two of her volumes of poetry, Holiday and Mother in Summer, in their list of the best books of 2002.

Hahn's first collection of poetry, Harriet Rubin's Mother's Wooden Hand, addresses ways in which a troubled childhood can have long-reaching effects that last into adulthood, scarring individuals and ultimately affecting their emotional outlook. Many of the poems in the volume speak in the voices of adults looking back at the experiences of their youth and sharing the pain and emotional impact of their memories, such as the knowledge that one was unwanted or the feeling of isolation garnered from watching parents make love from the isolation of a crib. Peggy Kaganoff, reviewing the book for Publishers Weekly, observed of Hahn's effort that the perspectives are "often witty and provocative, but much of this poetry is too straightforwardly narrative, lacking acute insight and inventive wordplay."

Confession, a later volume of Hahn's work, garnered mixed reviews, but overall made a strong impression. The free verse in the collection focuses on topics common in feminist modern poetry, such as female anatomy and relationships with lovers. A reviewer for Publishers Weekly was critical of the lack of breadth to the collection, noting of Hahn that "her self-absorption and narrow focus become quickly tiresome." However, in a review for Booklist, Patricia Monaghan compared Hahn's voice to those of earlier feminist poets Sylvia Plath and Anne Sexton, adding that "her voice is … her own, strong and without either shrillness or shame." Bill Christophersen, reviewing for Poetry, remarked that the book contains "poems that express with unhinged fury and an awful finesse the frustrations of aging and barrenness, the vertigo of rejection, the ache of jealousy."

Holiday is a collection of poems that delve deep beneath the tradition and mythos of the typical holiday celebrations and unveil the reality of those days on the calendar. Foremost in Hahn's work is the relationship between most holidays and past events of war, destruction, and death that they commemorate. The innovation of her approach and her strong lyrical style garnered favorable attention from critics. Donna Seaman, in a review for Booklist, called the collection Hahn's "most electrifying and authoritative so far," and concluded that she "is a poet ascending."

Hahn's next collection, Mother in Summer, received mixed, if mostly favorable, reviews. The poems form a cycle of mourning upon the death of a mother and explore the emotional journey of the experience. Hahn makes use of classical imagery and the oft-used metaphor of the seasons of one's life, but her awareness of the psychological phases that match the passing of the seasons makes her work fresh and connective. Rochelle Ratner, in a review for Library Journal, stated that Hahn overused some of her primary imagery, commenting that "flowers become easy similes, enabling the poet to skirt more painful emotions." However, Donna Seaman, again reviewing for Booklist, found that Hahn's approach to the mourning process "renders her grief timeless and quintessentially human." A reviewer for Publishers Weekly had a similar impression, stating that "the constancy of Hahn's raw emotion lend her figures an unmistakable humanity."

In Self/Pity, Hahn looks at human anatomy from the angle that the body makes its own, interior music, and she uses the rhythms, tones, and cadences of her word choices to mimic these sounds, starting and returning to the mother's womb as both the origin of humanity and the most primal of interior music. She depicts the steady rush of blood and pumping of the heart from the perspective of the child, a comforting internal rhythm that surrounds and nurtures. The core of the book veers away from anatomy, and toward several of Hahn's other favored subjects, sexuality, knowledge, and human awareness, looking at literary figures known for their overt sexuality, delving into mythology, and riffing on the concept of pity. Ilya Kaminsky, writing for Library Journal, praised Hahn's technique and efforts, stating that "this book is both revealing and very satisfying." Booklist contributor Donna Seaman observed: "Hahn has a uniquely spiky sensibility and a wit at once decorous and subversive." A reviewer for Publishers Weekly dubbed the collection "inventive," and compared Hahn's voice to fellow poets Alice Fulton and H.L. Hix, though noting her likely "more reader-friendly than either."

Hahn's next collection, The Scarlet Ibis: Poems, takes the form of a play, structured in three act-like segments. The poems feature an iconic bird, the scarlet ibis, considering its links to Egyptian mythology, and linking those in turn to a mysterious lady that features heavily throughout the collection. Donna Seaman, again reviewing for Booklist, remarked that the "quicksilver poem-play is brilliant in its misdirection, camouflaging with plumage and word magic great depths of feeling and insight."

In addition to her collections of poetry, Hahn has written several plays, including Golf, which was first produced in 2005. She has also edited, in conjunction with Reginald Gibbons, two anthologies for the TriQuarterly Press: Fiction of the Eighties: A Decade of Stories from TriQuarterly, and TriQuarterly New Writers, which collects both short fiction and poetry. Fiction of the Eighties met with critical acclaim. Sybil Steinberg, in a review for Publishers Weekly, remarked of the collection: "For contemporary fiction it is a standard-bearer." She went on to add that "the multiplicity and depth of the fictional lives here are astonishing." Rick Henry reviewed TriQuarterly New Writers for the Review of Contemporary Fiction, and praised the volume, stating that "the contributions in this collection are marked as much by their quality as they are by the editors' conscious attempt to assemble a diverse set of experiences."



Booklist, June 1, 1996, Michele Leber, review of TriQuarterly New Writers, p. 1666; December 1, 1996, Patricia Monaghan, review of Confession, p. 640; October 1, 2001, Donna Seaman, review of Holiday, p. 294; April 1, 2002, Donna Seaman, review of Mother in Summer, p. 1294; July 2005, Donna Seaman, review of Self/Pity, p. 1891; March 15, 2007, Donna Seaman, review of The Scarlet Ibis: Poems, p. 15.

Chicago Sun-Times, February 7, 2005, Hedy Weiss, review of Golf

Chicago Tribune, June 30, 2002, David Kirby, reviews of Mother in Summer and Holiday.

Library Journal, June 15, 1991, Kathleen Norris, review of Harriet Rubin's Mother's Wooden Hand, p. 81; May 1, 2002, Rochelle Ratner, review of Mother in Summer, p. 105; September 15, 2005, Ilya Kaminsky, review of Self/Pity, p. 68.

Michigan Quarterly Review, summer, 1995, F.D. Reeve, review of Incontinence, p. 444.

Poetry, July, 1994, David Baker, review of Incontinence, p. 223; September, 1998, Bill Christophersen, review of Confession, p. 337; December, 2000, "Announcement of Prizes for 2000," p. 227.

Prairie Schooner, summer, 1995, review of Incontinence, p. 165.

Publishers Weekly, September 28, 1990, Sybil Steinberg, review of Fiction of the Eighties: A Decade of Stories from TriQuarterly, p. 85; May 3, 1991, Penny Kaganoff, review of Harriet Rubin's Mother's Wooden Hand, p. 68; May 13, 1996, review of TriQuarterly New Writers, p. 72; January 27, 1997, review of Confession, p. 95; September 24, 2001, review of Holiday, p. 88; April 29, 2002, review of Mother in Summer, p. 64; July 25, 2005, review of Self/Pity, p. 50.

Review of Contemporary Fiction, spring, 1997, Rick Henry, review of TriQuarterly New Writers, p. 194.

Tribune Books, April 20, 1997, review of Confession, p. 1; June 30, 2002, review of Holiday, p. 2; June 30, 2002, review of Mother in Summer, p. 2; December 8, 2002, review of Holiday, p. 7; December 8, 2002, review of Mother in Summer, p. 7.

Virginia Quarterly Review, spring, 1994, review of Incontinence, p. 66.


Kenyon Review Online,http://www.kenyonreview.org/ (December 2, 2007), author profile.

Poems Web site,http://www.poems.com/ (December 2, 2007), author profile.

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