The poet who lived through the pandemic in a hospital laundry room and told the story in verse

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) was working in the laundry of the Punta Europa hospital in Algeciras, located opposite the morgue. It was the health centre where she has been employed for two and a half years.

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Rueda has told poetically, critically and crudely, how she suffered the pandemic of the coronavirus from her work environment and has collected everything she experienced in the book Servicio de lavandería(Hiperión, 2021). With this collection of poems he has won the XXXVIPremio de Poesía Hiperión. “I was trying to reflect my reality and the book of poems helped me to make visible the work and the sacrifice it has meant to those of us in my guild to carry out our work,” says Rueda.

“I can’t make a living with the awards. Of the seven books I have published, I haven’t even received five euros from sales, so how am I going to make a living from that? I have received money from winning a prize, but not from sales. I don’t live off literature”, says Begoña M. Rueda in a video call with

Poetry of the working class

“Yesterday I ironed the clothes / of the one who is now being carried by four. I washed his sheets, I folded his pyjamas, I fixed him a pillow / This is what we are / The east wind is blowing and a fine rain / is pattering on his coffin”, she writes in her poem entitled ‘A 27 de marzo de 2020’.

In Laundry Service the poems are organised like a diary, titled according to date, and are divided in the book into two parts: ‘Rinsed’ and ‘Washed’. ‘Cleared’ collects verses describing working at the hospital just a year before the Covid-19 crisis, in the spring of 2019. ‘Washed’ 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 working class, a necessary look, which brings the poems down from the literary Olympus where, sometimes, they nest. The result are verses that pierce and document what has been suffered: “Two industrial washing machines / are enough to whiten the clothes of the faeces / and of 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 one she received four weeks after the beginning of the quarantine – and the invisibility that the author felt at eight in the evening when “the work of the doctors and nurses / but few applaud / the work of the woman who sweeps and scrubs the hospital / or that of those of us who wash the clothes of the infected”, says the author.

In a passage of the poem, Begoña M. Rueda remembers the day when the Army went to her hospital to fumigate the whole place. Everything except the laundry where she worked, in front of which they parked the military truck. “Armed, tough” / as if they could shoot down the pandemic”, she describes.

Before the new normal

The award-winning collection of poems also speaks of the world before the new normal and the coronavirus crisis. These poems of everyday working life are in the section ‘Clarified’. Eight-hour days with 24 loads of noisy industrial washing machines. Colleagues who barely have time or strength to reconcile work and workers like Trini. A 63-year-old woman who, according to the author, has been exploited at work since the age of 13. Trini is waiting for retirement while she practices bachata steps among washing machines that emit 135 decibels of noise.

Rueda also shares in her verses her personal moment, what it meant for her to leave her Jaén de panaceite [sic] and her family to get a job in Algeciras and to park, for personal reasons, the Degree of Hispanic Philology nine subjects away from graduation. The author speaks of the sentimental moment she is going through and of the difficulty of “liking women / being a woman / and going to work with the fear / of being discovered / by her colleagues”, writes M. Rueda.

“There is in poetry a kind of mindfulness attitude that helps you to have a state of mindfulness. Not only in the laundry, I think I go through life like that and I don’t realize it,” shares the poet.

The jury of the XXXVIPremio de Poesía Hiperión reviewed that Servicio de lavandería is “cohesive, critical, lyrical without excesses, powerfully plastic, with marked contrasts and emphatic endings”. The jury 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 a financial benefit.

“Renouncing adornment and artifice, it constructs a human poetics of illness and its consequences in general and of the pandemic in particular, focused on unpublished, intra-historical subjective coordinates: that of the anonymous protagonists of History from an invisible place: the staff in charge of cleaning clothes in hospitals”, the jury pointed out.

Begoña M. Rueda has been awarded for each of the seven books she has written. Apart from the Hiperión, she has won the Luis Cernuda Prize of the Faculty of Philology of the University of Seville, the First Prize of Poetry of the Complutense University of Madrid, the VIII International Contest of Young Poetry Martín García Ramos of Albox, among other awards.

“Money is not something that builds me as a person, it is something that I assume since I started writing,” says the author from Jaén. “Writing and people reading me makes me happy. I wouldn’t change it for anything. Although 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. It comes from inside me and I have to get it out”, she adds.

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