Chris Ransick, Denver's poet laureate from 2006 to 2010, died on Monday, November 4. He’d been diagnosed with pancreatic cancer about a year ago, and a GoFundMe project was set up at the time to support his family, Shannon Skaife, and their children, Sean and Kelsey, in coping with the financial burden of his treatments. Chris’s life was one full of poetry: a delight in language, and an ability to pass that delight along to his students and fans.
He was a gentle soul with an easy smile, and that’s only one of the reasons that many will miss him.
We followed Ransick's work like so many others in Denver and, more recently, Oregon. We wrote about him often, including on the occasion of what was his final reading in town, less than two months ago. In honor of his life and work, and to mark his passing, we asked some of his closest friends and colleagues to offer some remarks — a memory, a tribute, a message, anything that felt right.
Allow me to start: I met Chris for the first time when we were assigned to share a cabin for Lighthouse Writers Workshop’s annual Grand Lake Retreat. I knew him by reputation — he’d already been our poet laureate for a few years by then — but all it took was one shake of his hand to quell any nerves I may have had. He took the loft and I roomed downstairs, and the week went quickly, peppered by Chris and a few others enjoying the view and the nights and the writing and the company. I went to sleep most nights listening to Chris laughing or plucking away at a guitar. As a memory of Chris that I’ll keep, I think he’d appreciate that one.
Read on for other remembrances. While you read, raise a glass for Chris Ransick, who would have been glad to raise one with you.
What can I say about Chris? I loved the guy. He was a dedicated friend, a good listener, and always fun to be around. He was a born teacher. I don’t think I’ve ever met anyone more devoted to inspiring others and encouraging them to learn the craft of writing. Much of this was by example — he worked hard at his own craft and produced many beautiful books. I suppose if there’s any solace to find, it’s that his spirit will always be with us, because we have this vast catalogue of incredible poems. If we ever want to hear from him, all we have to do is open one of his books.
— Michael Henry, executive director of Lighthouse Writers Workshop
Chris Ransick was the perfect person, the perfect artist, to reinvigorate the office of a Denver poet laureate. He traveled widely around the city and even the metro area, always accessible. His poems were frequently place-based, with a geography that was defined with only words essential and necessary. Sometimes he would wax philosophical, and he would delve into a geography of a person’s interior landscape. Often his own landscape. Often the landscape of two people in a relationship. Chris was invariably kind and patient, and relentless in trying to put poetry within reach of more people. He loved language, and he shared that love every chance he had. He was the consummate poet laureate.
— John Hickenlooper, former mayor of Denver, former governor of Colorado, current U.S. Senate candidate
Chris was my friend, teacher, mentor and companion on the trails of poetry and life. Chris was well versed in the mechanics and craft of poetry, but what he taught was the spirit. His love of words was profound. He expressed sincere joy at finding a new word or in discovering its etymology. His joy in life's pleasures, whether fine poetry or fine Scotch whisky, inspires all who knew him. He will be missed.
— Roger Wheling, editor of Wazee
My wife and I loved Chris for his humor, his deep learning and curiosity, his ability to love back. He was one of the finest men we have ever known, and that says nothing about him as a writer. Chris and I carried on a mobile conversation across more than a decade, spanning the landscapes of Colorado, Scotland, Oregon and Tasmania. We shared meals and his fine conversation — he was interested in damned near everything. When we left the States for our home in Australia, most of our best books stayed with Chris and Shannon in Oregon. I was glad to know they found an appreciative home. And now we have only his writing and our memories. “The words of a dead man are modified in the guts of the living,” as Auden put it. Chris got better and better as a poet, and at the end was writing as well as anyone alive. His other friends and I will make sure that work gets into the hands of readers.
— David Mason, former Colorado poet laureate
Chris was first my mentor, then later one of my best friends. His very life was its own lesson in living and loving well — a man fully present in every conversation, email exchange, note on a poem. My memories around his dinner table are some of the best of my life: fresh vegetables he'd joyfully prepared from his garden, good red wine, exchanges on the sublime Galway Kinnell and the mundane Mets. I will ache from his absence the rest of my life.
— Joy Roulier Sawyer, fellow poet and instructor at Lighthouse Writers Workshop
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There’s so much I loved about Chris. I was always impressed with just how smart he was. He seemed to know something about everything, and it was always such a pleasure to talk to him about any subject. Thinking of it makes me miss his voice, the way he spoke, his warmth and humor, his smile and ready laugh. I admired as well the sense of kindness and integrity he brought to all aspects of his life, personal and professional. I could go on and on, but I’ll end by saying how much I admired the way he bore his pain and suffering with such strength and dignity, how his main concern was never on himself, but always with how his illness and his passing would affect his family. He was a man of true character. I miss him dearly, but I feel my life has been lastingly enriched for having known him.
—John Brehm, fellow poet and teacher
Chris was one of my earliest writing mentors. He read and critiqued my work, yes, but more than that, he showed me how poetry is about engaging with the world. Earlier this year, I reached out to him when I heard that his prognosis wasn't good, and in the course of our e-mail exchange he said, "As for mentoring other writers, that’s a life-long thing. It’s subtly different from teaching in that anyone who would mentor must do so fundamentally by example. Mentoring also requires great humility, both for the self and for administration to the one in your charge. So job one is to keep pursuing your own craft with a passion — and it’s clear you are doing so. I’ll repeat myself here and say how much I appreciate your commitment to writing in the voices that were muted or stolen or ignored. Maybe you will not always write from this place, as one never knows how a writing life develops, but it’s the right thing to be doing now. Carry on."
—Teow Lim Goh, writer and author of Islanders
Chris was just such an elemental soul; it's just impossible to imagine him not being here.
— Laura Bond, Denver writer and journalist
Chris Ransick was a wise, kind, giving friend...to me, to his students, to the entire poetry community of Colorado. I met him in 2005, in the first class that he taught at Lighthouse Writers Workshop, and from that evening forward, my own writing and my appreciation of the writing of others blossomed under the light of his teaching. Beyond just words, though, I really believe that Chris composed poetry in the way that he chose to live: always observing, always appreciating what this world of pain and delights has to offer us. May we all aspire to this creativity, this open-hearted engagement with life as was his example. See you, my dear pal. See you.
— J Diego Frey, poet
Do you have memories of Ransick that you'd like to share? Send them to firstname.lastname@example.org.