H U G H . O G D E N
The following feature story appeared in the campus publication MOSAIC in May, 2000.
A passionate teacher helps students find their voices in a noisy world
Poet and Professor of English Hugh Ogden, teaching a recent "17th-Century Poetry" class, uses his deep and resonating voice to give full expression to a stanza from John Donnes "A Hymn to God the Father." "Donne is talking to God," Ogden tells his attentive students. "Hes scared of extinction and of not being remembered."
Ogden himself should not worry about not being remembered. Since joining Trinitys faculty in 1967, he has become memorable to scores of students by sharing his love of Donne, poetry, and language. He has touched their lives in many ways, and is one of the professors most frequently mentioned by returning alumni.
A peripatetic teacher and prolific poet
Ogden, who holds a masters degree from New York University and a Ph.D. from the University of Michigan (where he taught before coming to Trinity), co-founded the Colleges creative writing program in 1968 and teaches classes in poetry writing, 17th-Century poetry, Romantic poetry, Blake, and modern British literature.
Seven years ago, he began a creative writing program for students at the Greater Hartford Academy of the Arts, where he continues to teach a course in poetry. In 1992, he developed and hosted "Connecticut Voices," a read-aloud program featuring Connecticut authors on Connecticut Public Radio. He has served as poet-in-the-schools in Connecticut and Massachusetts. And he has shared his enthusiasm for his art in numerous public readings throughout the state and the country.
A prolific writer who draws inspiration from nature and his own life, Ogden has written an estimated 400 to 500 poems, many of which have been published in small presses and magazines, and he has won a National Endowment for the Arts grant and two Connecticut Commission on the Arts Fellowships. The author of five books of poetry, including Looking for History (1991), Two Roads and This Spring (1993), Windfalls (1996), Natural Things (1998), and Gift (1998), he was nominated for the Pushcart Prize in Poetry in 1998, a national award that honors poetry published by small presses and magazines.
Ogden traces his love of language to his childhood in Erie, PA, where he raised his voice in song as a member of his church choir. Poetry, Ogden contends, holds transformative powers. "Rainer Maria Rilke says in his great piece Archaic Torso of Apollo that were changed by poetry in relationship to the beauty we experience. Poetry brings us to a fuller awareness of what our experience in life is and what is beyond life and the world."
For Ogdens students, becoming more aware of the world begins by paying strict attention to the words in a poem. Students read poems aloud, paraphrase them to more fully absorb their meaning, and memorize classic poems and other works that strike a special chord within them so that the poems become part of them.
A love of literature and self
According to Professor of English and department chair Barbara Benedict, "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."
After four decades of teaching, Ogden has indeed created a legacy of lives that he has touched. Cotter Smith 72, an actor for more than two decades, says, "It was through Hugh, and his classes in literature and creative writing, that I first got in touch with the creative side of myself. It was Hughs infectious enthusiasm for great writing that made me realize the impact possible in a work of art."
In one recent poetry class, English major Stephen McFarland 00 shared a poem he had written about a psychiatric patient he had met while volunteering at Hartford Hospital. The line, "What of the spotty patches of salt and pepper beard you left on your neck, shaving without a mirror," elicits an "unbelievable!" from Ogden, one of the many exclamations he utters to underscore the beauty of a particular line.
Jocelyn Jones 99 chose to write about Ogden in an essay entitled "The Ideal Professor," which won a contest sponsored by the Connecticut Conference of the American Association of University Professors in 1999. Jones celebrated Ogdens distinctive gifts as a poet and a teacher and warmly concluded, "He challenges us to move beyond what is comfortable, to take risks and to be courageous. His latest book of poems bears the simple title Gift, but the true gift is the man whose spirit charges every encounter you have with him with a great love for life, who make you hope that your best, you too will rise above normal, and change peoples lives."
"I tell my students, the word sentence goes back to the Latin world sentire, to feel," Ogden observes. "A sentence isnt a complete thought; its a complete feeling. In a poem, the feelings are in the rhythms, the sounds, patterns of breathing units, the lineation of a line. Poetry is the highest form in the art of language. It always has been and always will be."