Review by Hannah Olson
LOST SONGS & LAST CHANCES
by Chris Ransick
Ghost Road Press
5303 E. Evans Avenue
Denver, Co 80222
2006, 107pp., $13.95
The first time I met Chris Ransick was when he visited my English class. He perched on the edge of a desk in front of my class and read a few of his poems. One of his lines stuck in my memory forever: “write as if you have something to say.” With this same philosophy, Ransick shares his inner visions of life through his collection Lost Songs & Last Chances.
“Bread & Anger: A Prayer” follows the familiar rhythm of life as it filters through the kitchen–fights, like rotten bananas, often find their beginnings in that common family gathering place. In spite of teenager’s “milk-washed cereal bowls” and a table “tilt[ing] under the weight of telephone, garbage, utility bills,” the author offers up his simple prayer: “let the aroma of fresh-baked bread overcome all bitter scents and leave us this once at peace.”
Jumping back in time for a moment in “Suite for an American Boyhood,” Ransick explores a deeply impressionable period of life. He crawls into the skin of Abraham Lincoln’s assassin, Seward, imagining a dimly lit theater and Booth’s iconic entrance. He plays baseball and sips tea with his Irish grandmother. He muses over that skillful hunter, the mantis, imitating its prayer for patience: “what I would need if bread were winged and I were starved.”
Every once in a while, you get a surprise, equivalent to the last time you opened that troublesome corner cupboard and all the dishes sprung out at you. This time it’s shoes, not dishes, that come springing out of the closet in “Poem for Your Shoes.” Considering that I’m a shoe-a-holic, I find the image of spirited shoes, tumbling over one another in mad chaos, dreadfully entertaining.
Ransick proves himself a master of the greatest gift of poetry–related experience–in “How I Swam to the Bottom of the Ocean.” As I read this poem I could feel the water lapping against my skin and the crushing pressure of every phrase as it brought me deeper and deeper into the ocean.
Just then, a yellow fish
kissed my forehead. In shock,
I opened my mouth and out came
all my air. But the kiss had freed me.
I could breath the water like she could
breathe the water, gills suddenly
flapping beneath my jaw.
If sprouting gills was as easy as one magical kiss, I would wholeheartedly believe that Ransick really did swim to the bottom of the ocean to bury his face in the soft, cool sand. The power that poetry has when combined with vivid imagination is able to transport the reader to places their bodies could never take them and experience worlds far beyond the limits of ours.
When I see a six-foot-tall biker clad appropriately in leather cruising down the highway on his favorite motorcycle, I don’t immediately picture a poet. Yet here Ransick shares his experiences of biking the Colorado’s Front Range in “Motorcycle Suite.” Each poem in the suite is named for a month in each season: a year’s impression of life on the road. “January” brings the chills of riding in the open air, riding not because of the weather but in spite of it. Snow melts in “April,” hailing summer and a warmer road to drive on. That road is fraught with danger, however, when a biker spins out on the interstate (“August”). Ransick describes the panicked situation as he helps a woman drag the ruined bike off the interstate. Finally, in “October,” Ransick jumps on his bike, his “head full of autumn poems and color,” justifying skipping work because “who ever knows which will be his last ride?”
If you dislike poetry that takes you beyond your zone of familiarity, then this book is not for you. In his collection Lost Songs & Last Chances, Chris Ransick serves a feast of imaginative and intellectual food for thought. Be prepared to read and re-read this delightful collection of intellectually stimulating poems.
Hannah Olson is a student at Arapahoe Community College and is preparing to transfer to University of Colorado at Denver this fall to study English. She works as a part-time nanny of three beautiful boys ages four, two, and two months. More than anything, she enjoys writing short stories about the many funny, if stressful, adventures in the my world of kids, college, and chaos.