Janice N. Harrington's debut collection, Even the Hollow My Body Made Is Gone, won the A. Poulin, Jr. Poetry Prize Contest and the Kate Tufts Discovery Award. Now she returns with a tightly focused collection that never veers away from its subject matter: the inner-workings of a nursing home.
The Hands of Strangers portrays the tensions and moments of grace between aged nursing home residents and their healthcare workers. What does it mean to be a nurses' aide in a nursing home, the lowest of the low, the typically-female worker who provides physical care for the devalued bodies of the elderly? What is it to live one's remaining life on a county ward as an indigent elder? The poems show women in motion: they lift bodies, push wheelchairs, give treatments, and perform the myriad tasks of caretaking. The poems show aides as anonymous figures laboring under routines, time clocks, and a distant medical hierarchy. They tell also tell the stories of how the nursing home industry reshapes lives, bodies, and identities of both aides and the aged.
Janice N. Harrington's first job was working as a nurses' aide while still in high school in the seventies. She says, "Like many of the 'girls' I worked with, I was young and inexperienced in a workplace that demanded empathy, skill, and compassion for the needs and stories of the elderly. I worked my way through college as a nurses' aide. I wrote The Hands of Strangers because I cannot forget the 'girls' I worked with or the 'residents' under my care. I haven't forgotten what I saw, heard, felt, or learned. Human stories hide behind the walls, the national statistics, and the isolations of institutionalized aging. I wanted to share some of those stories."
"Most of us do not think much of the frail elderly, the people who require constant care to get to the end of the day, near the end of their lives; still less do most of us think about their caregivers, the paraprofessionals and aides who perform, in nursing homes and outside them, an endless string of repetitive duties. Harrington's arresting book-length sequence of short clear poems takes long looks at these scenes, and at the people in them." Publishers Weekly
"Janice Harrington's work should be required reading for nurses, doctors and practitioners entering the ward." The Washington Independent Review of Books
Janice Harrington, an accomplished poet and author of children’s books, takes on a difficult, deep, yet rewarding topic in this collection of poems regarding life in a nursing homeYou will not look at someone in scrubs who you know is not a doctor the same again when you see them in the grocery store at some odd hour, tired as all, buying something for dinner at midnightThe ability of poetry to bring difficult lives into view with empathy is something Harrington handles with the utmost of skill, and I do hope she will continue to apply for all of our profit.”Coal Hill Review