The Spanish hospital laundry worker who keeps winning poetry prizes, Begoña M. Rueda has just added the fantastic Hiperión award to her collection of literary achievements for lyrical reflections based on her experience at Punta de Europa hospital in Algeciras.
Working by day and night to wash blankets, staff clothes, patients clothes as well as those of the deceased – not the most glamorous job.
“It has always seemed to me that poetry has to make the working class visible,” she says. “And, as far as I know, there are no books of poetry about this line of work.” The typical image of people doing laundry in literature is a riverbank setting, with women hanging white sheets that billow in the wind. But Rueda’s experience is, of course, quite different.
“There are few who applaud/ the work of the woman who sweeps and scrubs the hospital/ or the work of those of us who wash the clothes of the infected/ with our bare hands.”
Rueda began writing her book in 2019, prior to the coronavirus pandemic, but when the virus struck it became an integral part of her poetry, as she believes that a poet has to be a child of their time. Poignantly, she recounts the early 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. “As well as masks they give us gloves / I will no longer be aware of the sheets / that come still warm / into my hands.”
Since 2016, Rueda has been nothing if not prolific, publishing seven books as a result of winning awards with all seven. In the first, Princess Leia, she focused on a science fiction theme based on Star Wars, and won the Antonio Colinas Youth Poetry Prize. In 2019, in Reincarnation, she wrote about a woman who is reincarnated at different times in history, earning the Complutense University of Madrid’s First Poetry Prize. And with Error 404, she won the prestigious Burgos City Poetry Prize.