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Poems from Working as a Nurse’s Aide

Janice N. Harrington’s The Hands of Strangers: Poems from the Nursing Home come from her experience working as a nurse’s aide: “It was work; it was a way of life, and I wanted people to understand who the people are who are helping the elderly . . . Even when I read some of the poems in public, people will assume they’re nurses, but these are the nurses’ aides. These are the people who do the grunt work, the underpaid work. I wanted to tell those stories.”

The latest issue of New Letters features an interview with this author, where the quoted text above comes from. And as Editor Robert Stewart asks how she kept the details from so long ago in her mind, she responds, “I never forget the people I worked with. Even now I know what their conditions were . . . I still remember their names . . . I think we were in that intense, compressed situation, and their stories somehow became a part of my memory.”

The interview deals with the inspiration behind the book, her background in writing, and her writing process. “If I’m writing a poem,” she says, “I’m writing it for a reader; I’m writing it for another human being. I want the reader to understand me. I want there to be some communication. I know that there’s argument about being too simplistic. It’s not that I think poems are just about communication. Sometimes when I’m writing something, because I appreciate the sound of it, that’s what I want you to pay attention to.”

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