At the beginning of Mike Walker's review of The Hands of Strangers by Janice Harrington, a Boa Editions publication, Walker acknowledges the difficulty an artist might encounter his attempts to render the voices of a marginalized people clearly, without suffering arrivals at heavy-handedness and cliche. Walker writes, "If you are going to entitle a poem 'Old Photos' in a book dedicated to life in the nursing home, you'd better be a true master with words and also be able to conjure a tale alive in very fast time," a challenge to which "Harrington rises...time and time again." An exploration of the shelved lives of the elderly, Harrington's collection of poems enters a realm of things forgotten and lost; her subjects suffer immobility both within the planes of physicality and in navigating those of memory, the two losses often intertwined with one another. And though the poems approach the difficulties of old age, the environments where they manifest themselves most helplessly with inspiring humility, as Walker writes in his review, "The impressive aspect isn't in the empathy for both the elderly patient and the patient nurse that Harrington conveys but the nuanced, careful, way with words she applies in her approach to description." Walker's insight here aligns Harrington's work with the defense for all poetry; the reason we read it--for the way the music of language can be scrupulously chosen and arranged in order to grant us entry into bigger-picture truths, line-by-line letting us feel more palpably their every lift and prod. Janice Harrington published her first book of poems Even the Hollow My Body Made Is Gone with BOA Editions in 2007, and currently teaches creative writing at the University of Illinois. For writings by Mike Walker and other curiosities, head over to Coal Hill Review.
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