Farewell, Hugh Ogden

I have just read the news of Hugh Ogden's passing, a full month after it happened. When it happened I was in Iowa and probably shaking my head at the surprising death of a different person I knew absolutely nothing about, the Denver Broncos football player who was gunned down on New Year's Eve. That a man who touched me as Hugh did had such a tragic accident way away in his beloved Maine around the same time I was doing internet searches on Darent Williams haunts me to no end.

I guess I noticed a week ago that one of the main search phrases to my website was for "Hugh Ogden" in the last month, and, in the back of my mind probably wondered why, and denied that itching feeling that told me something had happened to him. And anyway life's distractions kept causing me to forget to look him up and find out. Now my worst fears are confirmed. I hope no one minds my personal preamble to this remembrance. I'm merely trying to paint the picture of a person (myself) who was, until this moment, pinned down by the minutiae of day-to-day worries and who is now penetrated by this tragic news and stunned by grief.

Hugh was there for me in several letters we exchanged after meeting at the MacDowell Colony in 1995. At the time I was a grad student at his alma mater, the University of Michigan. He himself graduated from there and began teaching at Trinity the year I was born. He's the most sympathetic person I've ever met besides, or equal to, my wife. Indeed, one of our topics would be relationships. I was just another precocious world-weary bachelor...what the hell were my problems? Hugh certainly didn't treat me as ordinary. I'm sure all of his students received the same, caring attention.

Hugh's entire poetic output, as I know it, might be seen as words for those in need. His poetry brings together natural imagery, reality (of his own life), and feeling for the human condition in a very special way. He does not hold back. He is like a jazz musician putting everything on the line, forgetting what he practiced, taking risks in the heat of the moment. I find his poetry risky because sometimes it departs from poetry (or does it?) and just starts telling you a story, and that story is often a true episode from his life.

When he first sat down to dinner at MacDowell, to my immediate right and I remember the table, we exchanged the usual first questions. I asked him not what his poetry was "like" (for a change) but what was it "about." He said with a twinkle in his eye that I still remember -- for it was neither the twinkle of "gotcha" nor of pride nor of melodrama, but the twinkle of Humanity, at once "happy" and "sad" (why search for better words?) -- "I write about pain," he said. Most people reading this page likely knew Hugh. They know that he embodied "soul."

I have met many poets at MacDowell. I have worked with a precious few, though I have had great plans to set many of them to music. I played piano for part of Hugh's reading at MacDowell that October, '95. I don't think I added much to his poetry in that context. But he is, in fact, the only poet that I was ever able to honor by making a bona fide, fully-composed setting of one of his poems, which was Loons. I set it in 1997.

I carefully read Hugh's book (that he gave me, signed, "Blessings on the path, Love, Hugh" ), "Two Roads and This Spring" looking for poems to set. I still have a handful checked and look forward to the day I can set more. I settled on Loons. This was composed for the chorus of the school where I was teaching at the time, Pittsburg State University in Kansas. The chorus there is very good. They took to the piece in a big way. The students loved it and were touched by it. I made sure to let everyone know who Hugh was and what the poem was about. The book muses on the death, also tragically, in Maine, of a woman Hugh loved. The poem sears with pain and remembrance as well as with the things Hugh loved, his lake and jazz. After the first performance of it, I remember one of my students who had sung it poking her head into my office. I don't remember the exchanged words exactly, just that they were few and she shook her head and plainly said with her body language that she had been brought nearly to tears. Hugh would have appreciated that. The chorus thought highly enough of it to perform it before thousands of people at Wichita's convention center at the state's largest music festival, KMEA, 1998. Both performances elicited great approval. One of the Pittsburg State students later programmed it at the University of Oklahoma when he started conducting there. Those are the 3 performances I know of. I am posting, for a limited time, the entire mp3 of the Wichita performance at the bottom of this page.

I cannot believe that Hugh passed on in the way that he did. I haven't seen him face to face in over 12 years (and how I regret that), but I see him clearly in his moods for he made that kind of impression. I wish he could meet my wife. And my baby daughter, for I can hear what he'd say. With a gleeful outburst he'd wail, "My god, she's beautiful!" He is someone I'm glad I didn't miss knowing. He was a medium of the natural world. He was a fellow artist and lover of the earth and he reminds me again, just when I think it is futile to produce anything in the crowded society of composers and writers, that you and your spirit are irreplaceable.

Evan Hause
February 3, 2007
Brooklyn, NY

Listen to LOONS

You may view the text here

(background color an earth tone for the earth lover)