Monday, January 08, 2007

A poet and professor

I learned yesterday that one of my professors from Trinity College died right before the new year when he fell through the ice of a lake in Maine. Hugh Ogden, poet and professor, was evidently crossing Rangeley Lake in Maine. He spent time, when he wasn't teaching, on an Naramantic Island. According to the Maine Warden Service, Dr. Ogden was crossing, on cross-country skis, Rangeley Lake to the mainland from his home on Naramantic Island.

On his website, he noted,
I've built three cabins on an island in Rangeley Lake in Maine where I often live in winter as well as summer when I'm not teaching. Construction, the machine shop, human labor as well as loons, moose, and bear provide the subjects and imagery of recent poems. That island provides the solitude I require for my writing, a liquid place of mountains and fierce shifts of weather and temperature, an isolation in which I hear the voices that call me to poems.
Hugh was 69 and had taught at Trinity for nearly forty years. He had quite an impact on generations of students.

Hugh was the professor for one of my first classes at Trinity. We were thirty students sitting in a circle, and he was the oracle, the mad professor, the off-the-wall man-of-words-and-ideas. He'd arrive to class, every inch the frazzled and forgetful professor, hair wild and eyes excited by some unseen prospect. He'd sit, animated, his feet bare, sandals and papers surrounding him, a beat-up leather man-purse tossed beside him. He was always pressing us, demanding new and original thought; he was not afraid of silence.

Words and ideas: these were his world. That was more than clear.

Barbara Benedict, a colleague of his at Trinity, said, several years ago,
Hugh Ogden is the kind of teacher that students remember their whole lives. He doesn't only teach them a love of literature; he teaches a love of themselves. He is challenging and deeply serious about the importance of beauty and meaning, and he is fully committed to making every moment of his own and his students’ lives matter.

Students emerge from his classes -- whether literature courses or courses on writing poetry -- moved, even shaken, by the experience of searching for truth. He really seeks to reach and to educate -- to bring forth -- the best in each of his students. In every one of his classes, in every one of his courses, he aims to draw students closer to understanding themselves and the world around them. Poetry for him is a means to help students find and express beauty and meaning. To Professor Ogden, his most important legacy is the generations of students he has taught to find their own voices in a noisy world.
Moved and shaken; that is very true.

It took me years to begin to see something of what Hugh saw, to begin to understand his idiosyncrasies, to realize that he wasn't flaky, but rather connected to words and beauty and ideas in a way that demanded an intensity and drive. We're all madcap in some way or another.

I imagine that Hugh went where he wanted to go, within sight of his beloved Naramantic Island. I wonder if he heard the voices to the end.

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