January 2, 2007
By PETER MARTEKA, Courant Staff Writer
GLASTONBURY -- Over the years, Hugh Ogden built various cabins on an island in Maine's Rangeley Lake. He described the island as a place where he "could hear the voices that call me to poems."
On Sunday, while cross-country skiing to the mainland from his island paradise, the 69-year-old Trinity College English professor broke through the unusually thin ice and drowned. His death shocked his family and members of the college community. His children had been planning a surprise celebration later this year for Ogden's 70th birthday and 40th anniversary of teaching at Trinity.
"He had an amazing gift for language that he shared with his children and grandchildren," Katherine Ogden, one of Hugh Ogden's three children, said Monday. "He loved it up there. He died in a place he loved - a place where he loved to write."
"He loved Maine and had a great connection with nature," added Cynthia Ogden, another daughter. "Who he was, was that island."
According to Maine Warden Service Sgt. John Blagdon, Ogden was crossing Rangeley Lake on cross-country skis to get to the mainland when he fell through the thin ice. Ogden's death was among several incidents over the weekend on Maine lakes, where officials warned Monday that unusually warm weather made the ice thin and treacherous.
Pamela Nomura, coordinator for the poetry center at Trinity, said she spent New Year's Day fielding calls from students expressing their shock and grief. Nomura said in addition to teaching college students, Ogden could also be found inspiring poets in nursing homes, prisons and shelters.
"He did this because he believed poetry could save lives," Nomura said. "He believed everyone's voice was important as was finding one's voice and listening to it. I'm not talking about the voice in your head, but the true voice in deep places inside that we all need to listen to."
"He believed poetry was not part of the academic elite realm," she added. "It belonged to everyone. It's in everyone. He made the voices of the unheard heard. And that goes for people, trees, water and clouds."
Known for his love of poetry, Ogden was one of the most popular professors at the college and co-founded the creative writing program shortly after arriving in 1967. He also founded the creative writing program at the Academy for the Arts magnet school in Hartford and taught adult education courses.
Ogden published seven books of poetry, the most recent one titled "Turtle Island Tree Psalms." He also published 500 poems in more than 300 periodicals. Nomura, a former student of Ogden's, said he believed poetry was the highest form in the art of language.
"It had the ability to change people's lives," she said. "Everyone has demons and he faced his demons fearlessly and that came out in his poems. He challenged everything and everyone. He never accepted an easy answer even if you were right. He challenged us to look at places deep inside and our lives were forever changed by it."
Katherine Ogden said the family had been raising money to establish an endowment to support the Hugh Ogden Poetry Prize. It was meant to be a surprise for Ogden - a "permanent place in Trinity's thriving world of poetry." It was to be unveiled at a celebratory poetry reading during Reunion 2007 in June.
"He had a gift in his brain," recalled his son David Ogden. "He knew his words."
Judy Harper, director of the Connecticut Audubon Center at Glastonbury, said Ogden was in the process of writing a poem to celebrate the center's 25th anniversary.
"He was so tuned in to nature," she said. "He was very intuitive and very spiritual as well as a creative person. He was always trying to get people in touch with nature."
Reprinted with permission of the Hartford Courant.
To view other stories on this topic, search the Hartford Courant Archives at