A teacher's positive classroom command can remain an unforgettable influence in an adult's life.
Poet Chris Ransick, whose 2006 collection of poetry "Lost Songs and Last Chances" was recently re-released by Conundrum Press, credits his high school English teacher as a "huge impact" on his success as a writer.
Prior to his family's late-'70s out-of-state move, Ransick spent a year at Auburn High School, where his teacher, Gerard Martin, called him out on his "stupid punk kid" antics. Martin challenged the future writer and college professor to "be better than that, to work harder, to care about studying and learning," Ransick said in an email.
From 2006 to 2010, the former Auburnian was named the Denver poet laureate by then-mayor and current Colorado Gov. John Hickenlooper.
"The audience for books of poetry is small, but this was a fairly high-profile appointment in the Denver area, so it helped me reach broader exposure and garner a modest readership," Ransick said.
"Lost Songs and Last Chances" is the third book Ransick published and differs greatly from his first two volumes of poetry, he said. In the book, he places individual poems in "suites" clustered around 10 themes.
"One of the suites is called 'Suite for an American Boyhood,' and features a poem about my clandestine attempt to sneak a nap in the bedroom of William Seward during a school field trip," he said.
Another poem in that suite narrates a game of sandlot baseball on the fields behind Herman Avenue Elementary School, he said. Other "suites" in the book are inspired by his westward travels, Denver and time spent in England.
As a writer, Ransick draws from his early life in Auburn and refers to his youth spent on Drummond Street, near Hoopes Park, as his "Tom Sawyer" childhood. There, he spent time outside amidst the region's resplendent four seasons. A backyard two-story tree house was his home not-far from home, where his imagination expanded by virtue of the natural world surrounding him.
"I learned to pay attention to weather, birds, animals, wind and the teeming life along a meandering creek that is invisible to most people, and maybe all but a few adults. So if you don't learn about this stuff during that window of time when you can actually be amazed as a child, maybe you never get it," he said. "Most importantly, I learned about how imagination hides in that space we mistake for quiet.
"I would not have been a writer — would not have been able to write — if I hadn't had these early experiences."
Ransick's first book, "Never Summer," won the Colorado Book Award in 2003, which he considered a "breakthrough." He next published a book of short stories in 2005, which was a finalist for the same award that year. Following this recognition was the initial release of "Lost Songs and Last Chances."
"As a writer, things were really ascendant for me then, and the laureate position came right in the middle of that time," he said.
The laureate position provided the poet the opportunity to meet many people as he represented Denver's literary arts scene. He left the position in 2010 and it remains unfilled.
"It was a great experience for me, and I did my best to give back to people as much as I could during that time," he said.
Appreciation of Ransick's ability, devotion and commitment to the writing profession was recognized again in 2013, when he received the Beacon Award for Teaching Excellence from Lighthouse Writers Workshop in Denver, where he has taught since 2006.
"(This) is even more special to me," he said.
The award is bestowed by Lighthouse students, Ransick said, and it signifies, for him, support of his commitment to teach writing and poetry.
"Teachers are getting hammered from every angle these days, disrespected and hounded out of their jobs, and it's a difficult environment in which to work and excel. Anyone who is a good teacher should be recognized and supported for it, so I was deeply gratified to be recognized for my professional work in this way," he said.
About the art and practice of writing, Ransick approaches his work by allowing for two "necessary and important things," time and and attention, he said.
"It sounds reductive, but just configuring your life so you can do those two things well, and often — that takes enormous effort and sacrifice. I've married for 32 years, raised two kids, and worked as a teacher, all of which require commitments, of course. But I put my writing alongside these things as an important endeavor, and I have never stopped doing it," Ransick said.
Conundrum Press has picked up all four of Ransick's previously published books and has released new editions.
"I was pleased when this Colorado-based press sought me out with the offer because it's great to have my whole body of work, so far, in print and available to readers," he said.