How Layered Experience Becomes Art (by Rina Terry)

rina for p1

Reading historical fiction is a favorite pastime and it definitely informed the writing of Cardboard Piano, my forthcoming book from Texture Press. As a young girl, I read the book Desiree by Annemarie Selenko. Over the years, I read it several times and became a devotee of Napoleonic history. On my first visit to Paris it was The Dôme des Invalides (containing Napoleon I’s tomb), which was my favorite tourist attraction.

I believe it is the lure of historical fiction that moved me to write of my experiences as a state prison chaplain. The actual experience of spending years inside such an institution changes a person, not simply those who are incarcerated, but those whose daily work transpires there.

It would have been a mistake to make the poems in Cardboard Piano autobiographical since the book is not about me but about the environment and how it shapes one’s perception. As a poet, I take what I know: see, hear, taste, touch and smell, as well as what I think, imagine, dream—and put that all together as narrative, as song, as image.

The remains of the emperor, inside the sarcophagus, are protected by six concentric coffins, built from different materials, including mahogany, ebony, and oak, all one inside the other.

Any environment in which one dwells—dwell is an important word—is layered, one thing nested, if you will, inside another. Writing good poetry yields layer after layer of meaning, as did the writer’s experience when creating.

I have several sets of nested items—matching bowls of different sizes, paper origami boxes, matryoshka. And I have my experiences, especially the years nested beyond four sets of barred gates. What might each human being reveal when taking apart and putting back together the nested experiences of a life?

About Rina Terry:
After leaving a position as Assistant to the Dean of General Studies at a New Jersey state college, Rina Terry attended seminary and became an ordained United Methodist Minister. She has served as pastor of several New Jersey churches and spent many years as Supervisor of Religious Services at a state prison. She holds an MA in English: Creative Writing from Temple University and a Master of Divinity from Princeton Theological Seminary. She has published poetry, short fiction, book reviews, academic articles and frequently writes columns on jazz and literature. She contributed three poems to POEMS FOR THE WRITING and the “Spirit of Names” prompt (in PFTW) was influenced by her work.

Hear “Eleven Times A Loser, he said” from Cardboard Piano, here:

2 thoughts on “How Layered Experience Becomes Art (by Rina Terry)

  1. Rina, that nesting idea–the Russian dolls, the layers of coffins in Napoleon’s tombs–is a fascinating concept. I like the way it invites deep thinking and the layering of thoughts.

  2. Yes that struck me too, same as Lynn, the image of nesting things and layered things. Your work outside poetry sounds fascinating and rewarding also, Rina. I look forward to seeing the book!

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