Book Club



Ashes In Love



Oscar Hahn was born in Iquique, Chile. He grew up in Rancagua and later in Arica. He won a number of poetry prizes early in his life and then studied the University of Chile's Curriculum in the Teaching of Literature. In 1972 he was awarded the degree of Master of Arts by the University of Iowa, USA. In 1972, when he returned to Chile, he took a job as Adjunct Professor at the University of Chile, Arica. In the next year, 1973, on 11 September, he was detained by the newly-installed military government of Augusto Pinochet, which had displaced the progressive government of the democratically-elected leader Salvador Allende. He was threatened with death but ultimately released. About the experience Hahn has written, "It was a lottery, and I believe that I'm alive thanks to sheer chance, because there were people who were detained with me and they shot them dead; this could just as well happened to me, I don't know what reason took them away, instead of me, or instead of any of the others that survived."

Hahn left Chile in 1974 for the USA where he earned the degree of Doctor of Philosophy by the University of Maryland College Park, and between 1978 and 1988 he collaborated in the composition of the Handbook of Latin American Studies issued by the Library of Congress, Washington, D.C. In 1988 his second daughter, Constanza Daniella Hahn was born, and in 1990 his first son, Diego Ignacio Hahn was born. He is a member of the Chilean Academy of Language and won the Society of Chilean Writers' Alerce Prize, the Municipal Prize of Santiago, the Altazor Prize (2003) and the Pablo Neruda Prize (2011). He has taught Latin American literature at the University of Iowa. Hahn was awarded the Premio Nacional de Literatura on September 3, 2012.


Translated from the Spanish by James Hoggard. ASHES IN LOVE is the first English-language edition of an extraordinary poetry collection from renowned Chilean poet Oscar Hahn. Hahn's work has been hailed by Mario Vargas Llosa as "magnificient and truly original...the most personal I've read in the poetry of our language in a long time." And in ASHES IN LOVE, Hahn beautifully affirms his reputation as the premier poet of his generation. In these outstanding poems, Hahn displays an uncompromising intelligence and strength, blending horror and humor with droll inventiveness. A sly craftsman, Hahn has assimilated poetic tradition, but is not a slave to it: he employs a wide range of poetic techniques, opening himself to the possibilities of mystery, song, and story.



1. In Ashes in Love, in the poem "Winter Landscapes" Hahn poses the question "If I had to return home/ where would I go?" ["Si tuviera volver a mi casa/ ¿a dónde volvería?"] How would you answer that question for yourself? What place most seems like home to you?

2. Hahn uses the words "ashes" and "dust" in a number of the poems in this book. Some examples are "Man With An Umbrella," (Hombre con quitasol) (p. 15), "Bone," (Hueso) (p. 27), "Words of a Phantom Before Its Birth," (Palabras de un fantasma anterior a su nacimiento) (p. 33) and "The Body Asks the Soul," (El cuerpo le pregunta al alma) (p. 55) How do feel about his use of "ashes" in these poems? Is it depressing? Realistic? Does it make you think of death?

3. The poem "Death's A Good Teacher," includes lines about a medical procedure - possibly one experienced by the poet. Have you had a medical procedure or other event in your life where you felt near to death? What was it like?

4. In "Notes In Rimbaud's Diary," ("Anotaciones en el diario de Rimbaud") Hahn writes as if he was the poet Arthur Rimbaud and in "Self-portrait by Van Gogh" ("Autorretrato de Van Gogh") he writes as if he was the painter Vincent Van Gogh. If you decided to write a poem as a person from history, or just as someone else, who would you chose and why?

5. Oscar Hahn's life was changed completely when he was imprisoned on September 11, 1973. Is there a time in your life or in the lives of those closest to your where everything changed as a result of big historical events?

6. Do you remember the 1973 coup d'état in Chile? What was happening in your own life at the time? How did you feel about what you heard about the coup? Did it get enough (or too much) attention in the news media of the day?

This reading group guide is provided by Small Press Distribution to Engage as You Age as part of the "I Remember Project" to support reading groups for seniors in Marin Country. SPD's "I Remember Project" is generously supported by the Marin Community Foundation.

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