Poet’s Choice: Hugh Ogden

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This selection features the work of the late Hugh Ogden and his friend and colleague Cynthia Munro Pyle. On Sunday, Aug. 10, lovers of poetry will gather at 6 pm on the lawn of the Ecopelagicon Nature Store, 7 Pond Street, Rangeley, to honor poet Hugh Ogden (1937-2006). Ken Nye of Freeport, the evening’s featured poet, will read from his award-winning work. Admission is free and refreshments will be served.

Hugh Ogden

I first met Hugh Ogden in the cold-water laundromat in Oquossoc in, I think, 2005. We talked about politics with equal vehemence, appropriate to these terrible times. But who else could one have encountered in a cold-water laundromat who could make and understand reference to the Greek philosophers and historians in the course of a normal conversation? Alas, I never really got to know him much better than verbal sparrings at odd occasions, but I liked him, and I felt a kinship with his enthusiasms. I had thought to reprint here one of his pieces from “Looking For History.” In the end, I decided that the poem I had in fact only “heard about” before writing my own attempt to understand his last moments is really the only possible companion to mine. In its metaphor, we see the Hugh who knew deep-down, and who risked living more fully.

Editor’s Note: Hugh Ogden, beloved teacher, carpenter, author and poet tragically died on the last day of 2006, when he fell through the ice of Rangeley Lake while on his way to visit friends. Among his many accomplishments in the literary world were a National Endowment for the Arts Fellowship and three grants from the Connecticut Commission on the Arts. He was appointed a Fellow at the MacDowell Colony twice, and he won residencies at the Island Institute of Sitka, Alaska; Hawthornden Castle of Lasswade, Scotland; Le Château de Lavigny in Laussane, Switzerland, and other prestigious institutes. 

What Sunday Means
Say maybe your three teen-age
kids have survived the cracked
years of the Twentieth Century,
that you were right in cutting
loose your husband of the last
decade, getting ordained and
finding a tiny congregation Down
East in Maine, say that in this
moment you’re happy with your
new love, that you step in his
steps onto lake ice no more than
a week old with water pooling
far out as the ice shimmers
and creaks and you let that love
of yours lead on the Sunday
you have off because your kids
have flown three thousand miles
to their father in California
and a retired preacher is doing
the sermon, say you’re happy
following where he walks as he
picks his way onto the frozen
surface but, when you step on
the same crack he’s stepped on
and it snaps, your gasp over
all your hedged bets and every-
thing you can’t control is
the harbinger of that panic-
cry when the next crack v-necks
and breaks so that his shoes
and pants sink and he’s swinging
the oar he’s carrying around
his head and down to the ice
in chest-high water and you’re
on your stomach pulling that
oar and him back up, realizing
it’s all luck, a blessing whose
grace slips towards you or
away because you can’t be sure
early-winter ice will hold long
enough for you to reach shore.
— Hugh Ogden
from Bringing a Fir Straight Down (2005)


For Hugh Ogden
(12viii07, 7 am)

Cynthia Munro Pyle


Stepping out onto the newborn ice
            You wondered: Will it hold?
            (Deep down you knew the answer.)

When it cracked beneath your ski
            You weren’t surprised —
            Just panicked —
            Though you knew, deep down,

Cynthia Munro Pyle

From the Pre-Socratics
            That water changes constantly
            (Changes who you are
            Or who you’re not)

And from Homer
            That icy depths claim heroes’ lives
            As their own reward
            In silent blackness

And from Thoreau
            That life is its own reward,
            Its own transcendence

And from all these and you (deep down)
            That after meta-physics
            We go beyond our ken

Into the particulate
            Realm of Cosmos.

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