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On 'The Hands of Strangers': Interview with Janice N. Harrington

Janice-N.-Harrington-111x150 Janice N. Harrington, author of Even the Hollow My Body Made Is Gone and The Hands of Strangers: Poems from the Nursing Home, shares her influences for The Hands of Strangers in a Ploughshares interview with Patricia Caspers. Caspers prefaces the interview with a description of the first spellbinding reading of the book she heard Harrington give: "I was struck by her ability to write about her subject - the lives of the elderly and those who tend to them - with frank graces." Caspers comments on Harrington's unique and masterful delivery and the way she asks for audience participation during her readings. While working at a nursing home, Harrington never considered herself a writer trying to capture lonely experiences of the elderly; instead, the job was her way of making it financially through college. She admits that her experiences as a nurse's aide actually influenced the book's poems decades later. Harrington's writing was also shaped by research. "To write poetry that goes beyond my personal knowledge, I'm always reading (history, literature)," says Harrington. "And in that sense I'm always using research. For The Hands of Strangers, I read books about professional nursing, aging, the history of nursing homes, essays on suffering, investigative reports on nursing home abuse, the treatment of the elderly through time. I followed my curiosity from folktales, through the Middle Ages, to Simone de Beauvoir's The Coming of Age. Ultimately, however, I drew most on the memory, stories, recollections of my own work as a nurse's aide and the work of my mother and sister." Harrington, in addition to her poetry, has experience as a professional storyteller of traditional folktales which she says significantly enhances the way she presents her work to an audience during a reading. She aims to engage her audience and make the role of the reader (or listener) more interactive rather than passive. Harrington explains this strategy to Caspers: "Through call and response, they take on the role of co-readers. Can I read the poem without involving the audience? Absolutely, and I have read... that way. Both ways seem to work but I believe that reading a poem aloud and writing a poem are distinct arts. Something different should happen when you stand to read before an audience." Harrington possesses a deep understanding for how an audience experiences a poem. She delivers her poetry, both on the page and through performance, in a way that brings the reader (or listener) as close as possible to the poem itself. Read the whole interview in Ploughshares Literary Magazine. The Hands of Strangers by Harrington
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