Scott Ruescher, the poet at/about/around the threshold
Updated: Feb 8, 2020
Sitting in Peet’s Coffee Cafe on JFK Boulevard in Cambridge, Massachusetts this past Wednesday, I could not have been more overcome by a mix of awe and perfect ease. Before me was a man (and #superstar) who many know as the Harvard Graduate School of Education Arts in Education (AiE) Program Administrator. Who, to others still, is known as the poet born out of his parent’s basement. The poet who wrote The Trees of Heaven. Homecoming. Anthem. Dedication. Beneath the Tobin Bridge. For Nefertiti Negrón. Elegy for Omayra Sánchez. Graceland Security Guard. La Despedida. Queen for a Day. And so many more.
The Scott Ruescher that I know, though, is all of this and more: a poet-educator whose work is at, about, and around the threshold. In fact, in our conversation this past Wednesday, I heard Scott smile as he shared stories of his teaching at the local Norfolk and Framingham prisons for the Boston University Prison Education Program: “It’s so refreshing to go in there, and it’s pretty likely that anything you show [those] folks from a literary anthology to a grammar lesson is going to be something they’re not familiar with and are going to be intrigued and amazed by. That’s been a nice thing… working with them and putting them in collaboration with one another… you’ll get a pretty interesting mix of people standing in front of the class doing a presentation of a feminist poet from the 1970s… you don’t think of [those] guys as feminists, but they’re open to the stuff… to hear an Irish guy from South Boston talk about a black radical poet… I like to get to the borders, and maybe cross them, but I like to see other people do it too. And not only are they crossing those, like, demographic borders, but they’re also crossing intellectual borders.”
Reflecting later, Scott told me: “One reward of the prison teaching comes in showing students from those exoticized communities the threshold they can cross to the 'higher-educated' community… I got to introduce the men in my contemporary American poetry course to feminist poets of the Our Bodies/Ourselves movement -- and last time I taught English comp at the women's prison two years ago I introduced students to the power of metaphor by inviting them to write about the various kinds of doors in the prison, literal and figurative. This kind of fun is compounded by the fact that traditionally segregated Massachusetts communities are mixed sort of amicably in the prison classroom -- white working class and poor, African American, Haitian, Cape Verdean, Puerto Rican/Dominican, et al, shoulder to shoulder, threshold to threshold. I enjoy speaking openly, in class discussions of the culturally very diverse readings you find in an English comp textbook or a literature anthology, about the same multicultural American issues as those that I explore in my poems.”
Noting how he, himself, is often at the threshold of social scenes -- as evidenced by his fluency in more than a myriad of art forms and academic subjects --, he adds: “I’m particularly curious about the lives outside of the so-called mainstream. What it's like for them. You know, what is it like for a Guatemalan family living in Chelsea Mass in a public housing apartment? Or what’s it like for my friend Regina who works in Longfellow Hall, growing up in Dorchester during the worst part of the racial strife days in Boston. What’s it like for the Native American guy near the homeless shelter near the railroad tracks down in Cambridgeport? What’s it like for him stumbling down the tracks?”
For Scott, this kind of compassion and humility doesn’t stop at the questions, though. It continues in his art practice and in his teaching. He brings this to life, writing: “My own approach to borders between my position of relative privilege and other communities is one of them. I'm always interested in those 'exoticized' communities because I think they will be really different and an exciting change from the mainstream -- and then I get to know them and they are demystified… and I am even more gratified because I can actually relate to them. That's been the case in my adventures at the thresholds of the black communities of Dorchester/Roxbury, etc. (through teaching in prison and working at HGSE with people from there), as well as the Hispanic communities of Boston (also through prison teaching and HGSE colleagues) -- not to mention those communities in Latin American countries where I travel. All of those adventures yield poems for me eventually. I don't go into the adventures looking for poems -- but I know they'll be there.”
And there they are, on Amazon, of course!
[photo credits: Bridget Ganske]
Superstar snapshot: Scott Ruescher
Superstar strength: intuition and the occasional lucky guess that makes him wish he were clairvoyant
Superstar secret talent: physical endurance... "or a related long history of insomnia"
Superstar inspirational quote: "my spirits rose in proportion to the outward dreariness." ~ Henry David Thoreau