Illinois State Library

Illinois Center for the Book

Individual Author Record

General Information

Name:  Susan Hahn  

Pen Name: None

Genre: Poetry

Audience: Adult;

Born: in Chicago, Illinois

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Illinois Connection

Hahn was born in Chicago by the name of Susan Firestone. She attended Highland Park High School and received her B. A. and M. A. in psychology from Northwestern University. She currently resides in Winnetka.

Biographical and Professional Information

Susan Hahn an award-winning poet, playwright and novelist. As a licensed group therapist at the Woodlawn Metal Health Center, she began incorporating writing and art into her therapy; and began to write her own work submitting her first poems to Poetry magazine. In 1997 she became Editor of Northwestern's award-winning TriQuarterly literary magazine and remained there until 2010. She was also co-founder and co-editor of TriQuarterly Books.Her first play, ''Golf'', directed by Ann Filmer, premiered in 2005 at Circle Theatre in Forest Park and her seventh book of poetry, ''The Scarlet Ibis'', was directed by Ann as a verse play in an earlier version in 2007.In 2013-2014 she was the inaugural Writer-in-Residence at the Ernest Hemingway Foundation.

Published Works Expand for more information

Titles At Your Library

Harriet Rubin's Mother's Wooden Hand (Phoenix Poets)
ISBN: 0226313018

University of Chicago Press. 1991

Redolent of Chicago's ethnic culture, Susan Hahn's intensely personal lyrics emerge from the world of an extended Jewish family and its neighbors. The voices of these immigrants are imbued with the profound effects and memories of the journey "From a patrolled town in the Ukraine/to Baltimore on a boat, then a train to Chicago." Hahn's poetry is about love and the lack of love, about rejection, and about other forces—generational, political, social, and sexual—that overwhelm individuals and cause them to limit themselves both physically and psychologically.

Incontinence (Phoenix Poets)
ISBN: 0226312712

University of Chicago Press. 1993

Charged with sensuality, ferocity, and despair, this sequence of poems follows the progress of a central character's passionate romance. Hahn's fevered book of human emotions becomes a powerful rumination on love, aging, and mutability in general.

"Stitching together tropes about writing and technique, as well as hunting and the loss of sexual innocence, [Hahn] marks and exploits the body with surgical precision in order to explore the peripheries of the personal lyric. She wants to take poetry to the most tangible and sensual extremes. It's often uncomfortable, and yet as often results in a poetry of generous, piercing honesty, as if (to rewrite Bradford) it's by the body we are 'plainly told.'"—David Baker, Poetry

"Incontinence has an enormous, almost epic sweep."—Chicago Sun-Times

Confession (Phoenix Poets)
ISBN: 0226312747

University of Chicago Press. 1997

Confession, the companion to Incontinence, Susan Hahn's previous prize-winning book of poetry, continues the probing, visceral account of the relationship of a woman with her estranged husband and her inconstant lovers. Ingenious, disturbing, Confession will enhance an already substantial following for this exceptional poet.

"Phoenix Poets is the most distinguished university press series going."—Alfred Corn

"Compressed, controlled, circumscribed by the artist's discipline, the poems in Susan Hahn's Confession do not spill over each is like a steadily held cup containing its pain."—Alicia Ostriker

"Hahn's voice is unique and unforgettable . . . . Hahn's self-revelation is so startling, and her details so extraordinary, that she virtually detonates her poems with energy. . . . Plath, Ai, Sexton—Hahn brings to mind those vivid, violent poets, but her voice is clearly her own, strong and without either shrillness or shame."—Patricia Monaghan, Booklist

"In her third book of poems, Confession, Susan Hahn continues to refine her amazing capacity to disquiet, disgust and fascinate. This may not sound like a recommendation, but it is. . . . The precision of Hahn's language stands out even more clearly when compared to the looser, baggier free verse that dominates so much contemporary poetry."—Maureen McLane, Chicago Tribune

Holiday (Phoenix Poets)
ISBN: 0226312763

University of Chicago Press. 2001

Holiday is a book of poems chiseled into both public and private calendar markers, where the unfinished self seeks, desperately and defiantly, resolution through either completion or negation. The poems are filled with unflinching irony and an intelligence that celebrates and laments personal, mythic, biblical, and historical events.

The Scarlet Ibis
ISBN: 0810151847

Northwestern University Press. 2007

In The Scarlet Ibis, Susan Hahn has created an intricately structured sequence of interlinked poems centered around the single compelling image of the ibis. The resonance of this image grows through each section of the book as Hahn skillfully employs theme and variation, counterpoint and mirroring techniques. The ibis first appears as part of an illusion, the disappearing object in a magician’s trick, which then evokes the greatest disappearing act of all—death—where there are no tricks to bring about a reappearance. The rich complexity multiplies as the second section focuses on a disappearing lady and a dramatic final section brings together the bird and the lady in their common plight—both caged by their mortality, their assigned time and role. All of the illusions fall away during this brilliant denouement as the two voices share a dialogue on the power of metaphor as the very essence of poetry.
bird trick iv

It’s all about disappearance.

About a bird in a cage
with a mirror, a simple twist
on the handle at the side
that makes it come and go

at the magician’s insistence.

It’s all about innocence.
It’s all about acceptance.
It’s all about compliance.
It’s all about deference.
It’s all about silence.

It’s all about disappearance.

ISBN: 0810151650

Northwestern University Press. 2005

Drawing on history, myth, folk rhymes, human physiology, and the psyche's crevices, Susan Hahn's Self/Pity is a relentless journey of the self through time, into the labyrinth of the present with its own stimuli and despairs. She strikes a delicate balance of contrast and collision between the various linked poems in this collection, which all deal with birth, the body, and the soul.

As with her previous collections, the poems in Self/Pity can be read as a cohesive whole.
From the simple prayer "To Jacob Four Months In The Womb" to the complex territory of the poem sequence "The Pornography of Pity," in which Mother Goose, the Marquis de Sade, Godot, Lewis Carroll's Alice, The Cat and the Fiddle, Zeus, and many others are called upon, Hahn creates a tour-de-force exploration of the book's central themes.

The Note She Left: Poems
ISBN: 0810124874

Northwestern University Press. 2008

Hahn’s new collection wrestles with the elemental and enduring challenges of the human condition: What can we use from our spiritual heritage? How should we find relief? How, after it all, do we live? The poems are presented as a letter to the world from a woman preparing to leave it. In four sections―“The Bells,” “The Crosses,” “Widdershins,” and “Afterwor(l)d”―she contrasts the hope against the dark that is embodied by an amulet or cross with the abased resignation of torture, failed prayers, and witchcraft. Though Hahn’s vision is a dark one, its dramatic emotional depth speaks to a human power that, though damaged, can still engage.

from The Crosses (V)

Cross my fingers, cross my heart,

arms extended, legs together, not apart,

I make of myself a cross.

In my pockets bright blue beads,

small clay gods, scarabs,

four-leaf clovers, bejewelled mezuzahs.

In my hat cockleshells

to exorcize the demons,

to keep hidden the seventh chakra,

the tonsure, the bald compulsion.

Cross my fingers, cross my heart,

arms extended, legs together, not apart.

In my ears little bells of confusion,

to frighten away eyes of the evil.

On my breast a foul sachet

to repel the lick of the Devil.

Cross my fingers, cross my heart.

In my window a glass witch ball

to guard against the shatter

from intruders.

Cross my fingers.

Mother in Summer (Triquarterly Books)
ISBN: 0810151308

Triquarterly. 2002

Mother in Summer is a collection of poems offering candid, powerful insight into the grief of losing a parent.

The Six Granddaughters of Cecil Slaughter
ISBN: 0984651004

Fifth Star Press, NFP. 2012

Telling the story of a family of Jewish Hungarian immigrants settled in Chicago in the first half of the 20th century, this novel follows their rise from poverty to prosperity as Cecil Slaughter’s children—out of equal measures glorified memory and sibling rivalry—name their daughters after him, with subtle variations: Ceci, Cecilia, Cecily, Celine, Celie, and Celeste. Despite—or perhaps because of—this and other familial forces pushing on them, each has a personality and direction of life distinct from her cousins. Celie is the top saleswoman in an upscale dress shop Cecily is a playwright Cecilia is a poet Celine finds her expression in the seduction of men and Celeste died as an infant. Ceci, the eldest of the Slaughter grandchildren and daughter of the admired and envied family beauty, Rose, died as a young adult and she serves as narrator of the novel from the afterlife. Through reflection, and with the counsel of Lao Tzu, she gradually attains a greater understanding and acceptance of Earthly human weakness, even as the lives of her living cousins lead inexorably to a violent and tragic conclusion. Set in the Rogers Park neighborhood of Chicago, this unusual page turner utilizes poetry and a sense of theatrical staging to original and haunting effect, rending a family saga with both distance and intimacy.

Losing Beck: A Triptych
ISBN: 1597096318

Red Hen Press. 2018

Losing Beck is the story of Jennie Silver, who is trying to get over a man who was greatly influenced by the renowned Hungarian emigré novelist Avigdor Element. Spanning a hundred years of history from when Nijinsky danced “The Afternoon of the Faun” in Paris in 1912, through World Wars I and II, to very close to the present, Jennie keeps a diary, writes a play and a novella in her attempt to control her desperate, high-pitched emotions focused on a man she is uncontrollably drawn to and at the same time finds repugnant. A man who is one of the keepers and part of the legacy of Element’s bad behavior.


  • Literary Awards and Fellowships, Illinois Arts Council
  • Award for Poetry, The Society of Midland Authors, 1994
  • George Kent Prize, Poetry Magazine, 2000
  • Fellowship in Poetry, Guggenheim Foundation, 2003-2004
  • Inaugural Writer-in-Residence,Hemingway Foundation, 2013-2014
  • Pushcart Prizes in fiction and poetry

    Speaking Engagements

    Speaking Engagement Availability (Yes)