In the spring of 2020, while the whole of Spain was confined by the health crisis, the award-winning poet Begoña M. Rueda (Jaén, 1992) worked in the laundry of the Punta Europa hospital in Algeciras, located in front of the funeral home. It was the health center where she has been employed for two and a half years.
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Rueda has told poetically, critically and crudely, how the coronavirus pandemic was suffered from his work environment and has collected everything he experienced in the book Laundry service (Hyperion, 2021). With that collection of poems he has won the XXXVI Hyperion Poetry Award. “I was trying to reflect my reality and the collection of poems helped me to make visible the work and sacrifice that my union has made to carry out our work,” says Rueda.
“With the prizes it does not give me to live. Of the seven books that I have published I have not received even five euros from sales, how am I going to keep myself from that? Economic endowment of winning a prize yes I have received, but not from sales. I don’t live on literature, “says Begoña M. Rueda in a video call with elDiario.es.
Working class poetry
“Yesterday I ironed the clothes / of the one that now four of them carry on their backs. I washed his sheets, folded his pajamas, made him a pillow. / This is us. / The east wind is blowing and a fine rain / clatters on his coffin.”, he writes in his poem titled ‘A March 27, 2020’.
On Laundry service the poems are organized like a diary, titled according to the date, and the book is divided into two parts: ‘Clarified’ and ‘Washed’. ‘Clarified’ collects verses that describe how the hospital worked just one year before the Covid-19 crisis, in the spring of 2019. ‘Lavado’ begins on March 21, 2020, the beginning of the state of alarm decreed by the Government.
The chronicles of the pandemic described by M. Rueda are harsh. His poetry is of the working class, a necessary look, which lowers the poems of the literary Olympus where, on occasions, they nest. The result is verses that go through and document what has been suffered: “Two industrial washing machines / are enough to whiten clothes from feces / and from the blood that could be my blood, my misery / could be, one day, a nightgown / covered in vomit “. Poems that build a book that reflects the personal and professional life of a poet who does not (only) live from literature.
Laundry service testifies to the precariousness of the sector, the lack of gloves and masks -the first was received four weeks after the start of the quarantine-, and the invisibility that the author felt at eight o’clock in the afternoon when “the work of the doctors and of the nurses / but few are those who applaud / the work of the woman who sweeps and scrubs the hospital / or that of those who wash the clothes of the infected “, says the author.
In a passage from the collection of poems, Begoña M. Rueda remembers the day the Army went to her hospital to fumigate the entire premises. Everything, except the laundry where she worked, in front of which they parked the military truck. “Armed, strong” / as if they could shoot down the pandemic, “he describes.
Before the new normal
The award-winning collection of poems also talks about the world before the new normal and the coronavirus crisis. These poems of the daily work are in the section ‘Clarified’. Eight-hour days with 24 loads of noisy industrial washing machines. Compañeras who barely have time or strength for conciliation and workers like Trini. 63-year-old woman who, according to the author, has been exploited for work since she was 13. Trini awaits retirement while practicing bachata steps between washing machines that emit a noise of 135 decibels.
Rueda also shares her personal moment in her verses, which meant for her to leave her Jaén de panaceite [sic] and his family to get a job in Algeciras and park, for personal reasons, the Degree in Hispanic Philology to nine subjects upon graduation. The author speaks of the sentimental moment that she is going through and the difficulty of “that you like women / being a woman / and go to work with the fear / of being discovered / the companions”, writes M. Rueda.
“There is in poetry a kind of attitude mindfulness that helps you to have a state of mindfulness. Not only in the laundry room, I think I’m going through life like this and I don’t realize it, “the poet shares.
The XXXVI jury Hyperion Poetry Prize stated that Laundry service it is “cohesive, critical, lyrical without excesses, powerfully plastic, with marked contrasts and resounding endings”. Jury that was formed by Francisco Castaño, Ben Clark, Ariadna G. García, Jesús Munárriz, and Benjamín Prado. This outstanding national award, dedicated to poets under 35 years of age, is not endowed with an economic benefit.
“By renouncing adornment and artifice, he constructs a human poetics of the disease and its aftermath in general and of the pandemic in particular, focused on unpublished, intrahistoric subjective coordinates: that of the anonymous protagonists of History from an invisible place : the personnel who are in charge of cleaning clothes in hospitals, “said the jury.
Begoña M. Rueda has been awarded for each of the seven books she has written. Apart from Hiperión, it has the Luis Cernuda Prize from the Faculty of Philology of the University of Seville, First Prize for Poetry from the Complutense University of Madrid, VIII Martín García Ramos de Albox International Young Poetry Contest, among other awards.
“Money is not something that builds me as a person, it is something that I assume since I began to write,” says the author from Jaén. “Writing and people reading to me makes me happy. I don’t change it for anything. Even if they don’t give me a penny, I’ve been writing for many years and if I haven’t stopped writing it’s because it really is a vocation. I want to die writing. A I am born from within and I have to get it out, “he adds.