The hospital laundry room is where patients’ pajamas, staff uniforms, surgical gowns, blankets, sheets stained with blood, sweat, vomit and all fluids secreted by the body are kept. sick and fresh corpses. âYou will never know anything about the people who wore the clothes; whether alive or dead. It could have been a loved one, âsays BegoÃ±a M. Rueda, 29, from JaÃ©n, in the southern region of Andalusia in Spain. “It gives a lot of food for thought, especially children’s clothing.”
The world is different seen through the prism of industrial washers and dryers and carts of dirty sheets and clothes. The shrouds that wrap the bodies of the deceased are the only items that are thrown away. Meanwhile, just beyond the walls of the laundry room, the cosmic drama of existence unfolds: people are born while others die, some become sicker while others are healed; there are both laughs and tears and a lot of poetry to be found here.
Rueda washes and returns to the Punta de Europa hospital in the port city of Algeciras, a place that inspired his collection of poems Lavender service (or laundry service), which earned him this year’s Hiperion Award and a book deal with the award-sponsoring publishing house. In 2019, financial problems prompted Rueda to suspend her Hispanic Studies degree in JaÃ©n and find a job further south, leaving behind her partner, family and friends. Since then, she has watched ships enter the vast port of Algeciras within sight of Gibraltar and writes about some aspects of her work at the hospital.
Writing poetry is a job that takes time and effort. Ideally, it would be well paid, so that I can resume my studies for my degree
BegoÃ±a M. Rueda
âIt always seemed to me that poetry should make the working class visible,â she says. “And, as far as I know, there aren’t any poetry books on this line of work.” The typical image of people doing laundry in literature is a setting by a river, with women hanging up white sheets that billow in the wind. But Rueda’s experience is, of course, quite different. âFew of us applaud / the work of the woman sweeping and cleaning the hospital / or the work of those of us washing the clothes of infected people / with our bare hands.
Rueda started writing her book in 2019, before the coronavirus pandemic, but when the virus hit it became an integral part of her poetry, as she believes a poet should be a child of her time. Poignantly, she recounts the first fears of an unknown threat, the lack of resources in the early stages of the pandemic, the collapse of the healthcare system, the minutes of silence for deceased colleagues. “In addition to the masks, they give us gloves / I will no longer pay attention to the sheets / which still come warm / in my hands.”
Since 2016, Rueda has been nothing but prolific, publishing seven books as a result of winning awards with all seven. Princess Leia, she focused on a sci-fi theme based on Star wars, and won the Antonio Colinas Youth Poetry Prize. In 2019, in Reincarnation, she wrote about a woman who reincarnated at different times in history, winning the first prize for poetry from the Complutense University of Madrid. And with 404 error, she won the prestigious poetry prize of the city of Burgos.
Some of his writings are conceptual and follow a narrative, while other collections do not have a specific theme. âI try to look for variety and versatility,â she says. “It’s true that the writer always writes the same book, but you have to try to do it in different ways.”
Despite his awards and publications, Rueda noticed that the world of poetry is, to some extent, class-dominated. “There are people who told me that they were disappointed: they don’t understand why I do this kind of work considering ‘how smart you are’ and ‘how well you write'”, she says. In her collection, she mentions doctors who don’t even say hello as they walk past launderers, and managers who don’t take the health of launderers seriously.
Poetry takes work, but it is underestimated and above all unpaid. So Rueda had to do many different jobs to support himself, such as serving the table and making pizzas in home delivery franchises. âI saw conditions that were slavery, outright, with wages that were not enough to live on,â she says. âWriting poetry is a job that takes time and effort. Ideally, it would be well paid, so that I can resume my studies for my degree. “
During the summer, the daytime temperature inside the laundry room with all the machines running can be inhuman, so this season Rueda has chosen to work at night when the darkness brings reflections on the dead and dying. In one of her poems, she explains how some dying patients comb their hair, shave and soak in cologne shortly before the hour, “as if dying / was just doing another of many walks / Sunday mornings â.
english version by Heather galloway.