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."