It’s not uncommon for UCLA Extension students to reinvent themselves, having first achieved success in other fields, then taking classes later in life to further explore their creativity, both personally and professionally. Beth Ruscio is the perfect example. Beth was a successful actress of stage and screen before coming to the Writers’ Program seven years ago. After taking a variety of workshops, she eventually found her passion in poetry.
Beth has since been named one of six Newer Poets of L.A. by the Los Angeles Poetry Festival, has won a Patricia Bibby Scholarship to Idyllwild Summer Poetry, and has read her poems at numerous venues including the Mark Taper Library, the RedCat Theater, and Beyond Baroque. Her poetry has been published in The Malpais Review and she is currently working on her first collection.
You have a longtime background as an actress. What was the impetus for you to begin exploring poetry?
The mind of a poet [is similar to] the mind of an actor. For one, both require sensitivity to minute, tonal, tangential observations that get re-seen in metaphorical terms. For another, the ability to marshal the kind of concentration necessary to sustain a two-hour stage performance, to have that kind of energy to tap into as a poet is a big plus, because art is work and poetry requires stamina. For me, it’s drafts and drafts, and the long haul on a single poem can be years. These kinds of things began to convince me I had the makings of a poet.
How have Writers’ Program courses and instructors helped you as a writer?
It was writing short stories that brought me to the Writers’ Program, first with Stephanie Waxman and then with Stephen Cooper, both of whom are excellent and very encouraging teachers. But my stories kept getting more and more compressed. I made the leap one summer seven years ago, a particular crossroads for me where attempting poetry–which I held in such esteem and perceived as really difficult to master–was the only antidote to my artistic crisis.
I walked into Laurel Ann Bogen‘s class and my life has literally not been the same since. I essentially created my own program in poetry by studying with Laurel—the first to recognize me as poet material. I recently studied with Michelle Bitting, and I took a record number of classes with Suzanne Lummis. The great thing about all these instructors is they’re in the trenches with you, they aren’t sealed off in academe, but rather come from the workaday world of writing. It’s an invaluable kind of example as it contains the art, the striving in the face of real world obstacles and the legacy of excellence, which sets a high bar for what is possible.
Poetry sometimes seems like such an elusive area of writing. What advice do you have for students who want to explore this genre?
It helped that I had tried many genres of writing before I came to poetry. It helped that I got older. But also, to me, making a poem can be like pressing a chunk of coal into a diamond with your bare hands. If that sounds as appealing to you as it did to me seven years ago, you might try your hands at poetry.
Mae Respicio is the Program Representative for Creative Writing (Onsite).