Nuevo hotel de las nostalgias. Óscar Hahn. Lima: Lustra Editores. 2016. 46 pages.
Venezuelan readers of Óscar Hahn now have within their reach his Antología retroactiva [Retrospective anthology], published in Caracas by Monte Ávila Editores in 1998. As the title suggests, the collection begins with Versos robados [Stolen verses] (1995) and ends at Arte de morir [Art of dying] (1977). These are the limits, at least in publishing terms, of our access to the works of the Chilean poet. I highlight this because we’re so accustomed to substitutions: books that pass from “athlete to athlete” like cylindrical tubes from the Olympic Games. That’s how the recent anthology of Hahn, El nuevo hotel de las nostalgias [The new hotel of nostalgias] (Lustra Ediciones, Lima, 2016). arrived in my hands.
Following the trail back through several electronic passageways, I realize that there already existed a precedent in the Peruvian press itself (Hotel de las nostalgias [Hotel of nostalgias], 2007). I don’t have access, obviously, to that publication, but what I do notice is the inclusion of poems selected from three books published after 2007: Pena de vida [Pity of life] (2008), La primera oscuridad [The first darkness] (2011), and Espejos comunicantes [Communicating mirrors] (2015).
Although deliberately brief, Nuevo hotel de las nostalgias gives us a chronological map of both territorial extremes of Hahn’s trajectory. This fact is materialized in the poem “Soy una piedra lanzada de canto” [I am a stone thrown edgewise], which belongs to her first book, Esta rosa negra [This black rose] (1961). More than an anthology, what we have here is an abbreviated album, intended for Latin American readers or to satisfy immediate necessities as an editorial aperitif at poetry festivals. In the end, it doesn’t matter what intentions he considered: what matters is the very map of his creations, the possibility of approaching one of the most resounding voices of contemporary Hispanic America.
The most interesting part of this offering is the absence of divisions that allude to the belonging of one book or another. The reader will appreciate it, poem after poem, as a single volume, coming to know the possible evolutions or formal or thematic constants. Only the index offers chronological shelves. This stylized collection from Lustra, with a limited release and a sober blue design, bears on its back cover an laudatory phrase from his countryman Jorge Edwards: “Óscar Hahn is one of the very few living poets of our language who has a truly poetic way of thinking.” This expression, which at first sight might seem grandiloquent, a helpful hook for clumsy readers, has an origin that Luis Cernuda defined in his well known book Estudios sobre poesía española contemporánea, while looking for a clear differentiation between intention and execution: “In the poet’s work, intention and execution coincide; now, and whether it should hit the mark or go awry is another concern. We could say that Garcilaso got close and Espronceda missed the target; what we couldn’t say is that Garcilaso and Espronceda intended something different from what they executed.”
Óscar Hahn, given his well known and express devotion for the Hispanic classics, had surely considered this differentiation. For this reason, I believe that this “poetic way of thinking”which Edwards mentions could also have something to do with Cernuda and his double exercise. It could be a political way of thinking, perhaps, those clear intentions to confront the poem, the capacity to decide, to choose the best possible resources. Edwards was not speaking in disproportions: he didn’t say “one of the best living poets in our language,” but one of those who has “a truly poetic way of thinking.” Pensamiento político could be related to a poetic in itself or a privileged place in the continental literary canon. Does it put itself down for intimate craftsmanship, in the creative labors within a study room? At least that’s what Hahn himself has said in several interviews: “What I sustain is that I could never have the problem of the blank page, due to the simple fact that I never place myself before the page, unless I already know the exact words that I will write.” This poetic way of thinking could be better summarized in a few of the final lines of the poem “Todas las cosas se deslizan” [All the things slide]: “…I think about things / that don’t see through to the background.”
Hahn opts for legibility, for explicit closeness without excessive walls. What he decides to add – from the established references to tradition to the gestures and phrases usually employed in colloquial acts – is already coupled with the verses, which consciously omit some normative aspects of grammar. Nothing or almost nothing is discarded a priori. The succession of verses follows an intermittent and spontaneous route, even in metric structures that are apparently stable and invariable in their forms (like the sonnet and the lira). Hahn sees the past as an archaeological dig. What he catalogues as highbrow or academic is placed together with a certain impertinence and liberty to employ certain romantic and mortuary themes (“Death is a good mistress / when she talks into her ear and then retires”).
It’s risky to evaluate Nuevo hotel de las nostalgias as if we had the most defining and definitive sense of Óscar Hahn. Like any body of work, we must observe his work in transit, in its movements, which are not always possible to intuit. Perhaps it was meant to be read in a quick circulation with almost seventy years of history. It’s uncanny to turn every page and pass through decades of writing. On one page we’re in 1961, on the next in ‘77, and so on and so on.