Beth Ruscio: An Interview with the Actress-Poet

Saturday, November 21, 2020

“Confident and poised, (her poems) own the stage of these pages. I am on my feet, applauding them and their maker.” — Gail Wronsky, author of Imperfect Pastorals

Mariano Zaro recently interviewed the actress-poet Beth Ruscio, whose poems I first remember hearing at an open reading at the Poetry Festival in Idyllwild back in its glory days, when it was being run by its co-founders Cecilia Woloch and John Maguire. Beth first attended a poetry workshop at Idyllwild when she won the Patricia Bibby Scholarship the second year it was awarded. Unlike many people in Los Angeles County who have only a very vague notion of how to get to Idyllwild, Beth was familiar with the place because also her playwright spouse, Leon Martell taught at the Idyllwild summer arts program. Martell is one of the best and most under recognized playwrights in the country and currently teaches at UCLA Extension.

Beth Ruscio’s first full-length book of poems, SPEAKING PARTS, was the winner of the Brick Road Poetry Prize and has just been published by Brick Road Press. Anyone making a list of the year’s best books of poetry needs to read SPEAKING PARTS before making their final choices. If you don’t bother to read it before making such a list, you have no excuse but laziness that verges on curiosity reduced to imaginative illiteracy. There are a number of books that I would add to this list of required reading, including Susana H. Case’s DEAD SHARK ON THE N TRAIN.

It would help Beth’s cause, of course, if she could give readings. Unfortunately, the pandemic has shut down any public presentations, but Beth will be giving a reading on Zoom on December 6. In the meantime, enjoy her company in this interview.

To get Beth’s book in time to give it as a holiday present:

Beth Ruscio
As a daughter of actors, and part of a working class family of artists, actors, teachers and writers working in California, my poetry has been honored with Pushcart Prize and Best of the Net nominations, as well as finalist honors: The Wilder Prize, The Sunken Garden Poetry Prize, The Tupelo Quarterly Prize, The Ruth Stone Poetry Award and The Two Sylvias Prize.

“Buoying us fearlessly through theatrical make-up sessions, costume changes, death, love, and itchy wigs, the luminous poems in Beth Ruscio’s debut collection SPEAKING PARTS speak to us in a language that’s inviting, insightful, and alive. Even while acknowledging that ‘sorrow bleaches us,’ and observing that here’s a ‘grammar of anger in the color of ice,’ these poems somehow always uplift. Confident and poised, they own the stage of these pages. I am on my feet, applauding them and their maker.” — Gail Wronsky, author of Imperfect Pastorals

“The elegant enactments and lyrical meditations of SPEAKING PARTS remind us that to speak for others also allows us to speak most eloquently for those many interior aspects of ourselves. In this inventive and precisely staged book oof poetry, those disparate voices braid together into a single luminous choir.” — David St. John, author of The Auroras

“In Beth Ruscio’s ingenious, turn-on-a-dime poems, performance is all. There is no ‘true’ self for her speaker to uncover, and no canned epiphanies for readers, either. There are only the unsparing imperative of improvisation — timing, cunning, abandon, ruse. Each moment’s desire met and then deflected. Wha does it take to play ou/selves Everything.” — Dorothy Barresi, author of What We Did While We Made More Guns

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