Somewhere a Cleaner
Landing Press celebrates our cleaners
2020. The year of Covid 19. The year we started talking about essential services, that we all depend on, but think so little about. Including cleaning.
So, here at Landing Press, we thought, let’s listen to the cleaners themselves. Let’s bring together some of the many and varied voices of cleaners across the country, in the way we know best – through poetry.
We sent out a call for submissions nationwide and received about 200 poems. There were poems by people who’ve cleaned for 40 years or cleaned 40 years ago when studying or travelling overseas, from people who clean hospitals, hotels, offices, and their own homes. There were many great poems – unfortunately, many more than we could include.
We had the foundation for an excellent collection, but it didn’t yet reflect the remarkable diversity of the cleaning population. So we set about finding, or creating, poems with cleaners from widely diverse backgrounds and experiences, many of whom had migrated to New Zealand from a range of countries. We went to railway stations, churches, cleaning companies, we talked to neighbours, we ran small workshops. Poems and small stories came from conversations about long hours, low pay, the living wage, good managers, racist managers, manageable workloads, impossible workloads. We learnt about how vulnerable many cleaners feel, and how risky it is for them to speak out. And how funny the job can be, too.
We wanted poems about cleaning marae. And about ritual cleaning. We also wanted poems about unusual cleaning jobs, so we went hunting for those too.
Behind many of these poems are big life stories, and big dreams – of education for children or themselves, buying a house, returning to a past profession.
In an ideal world, this book would be in all the languages of its contributors. But Landing Press lives in a real-world of small budgets! However, we were delighted to receive two poems written in Samoan and English, and poems in te reo. They are steps along the way.
We’ve chosen to put the note about each writer on the same page as their work because this collection is as much about the writers as it is about their words.
We’ve loosely grouped the poems into sections by theme, and we’ve introduced each section with a quote from one of the poems and a cleaning hint. All the hints came, of course, from the writers!
There is a mix of everything in these pages – songs, deeply thoughtful poetry, small poignant stories, even a limerick. The collection is travelling on a wave of goodwill – from first-time writers willing to risk putting themselves on the page to well-established writers willing to consider some unorthodox editing!
According to the 2018 Census, 38,577 people were working as cleaners in New Zealand. This collection brings together the voices of some of them. As poet and doctor Glenn Colquhoun says, “Like the heart and lungs, cleaners do their work to some great rhythm and beat. When they do it well, they are invisible. The sun rises and the world is fresh and clean.’
Adrienne Jansen, Te Rongomai Tipene-Matua, Joan Begg, Wesley Hollis, and Nicky Subono.
Landing Press is a small Wellington-based publisher that focuses on publishing books of poetry
that can be widely enjoyed, and that gives voice to those who are not often heard. Last year,
it published More of Us, a book of poetry by former refugees and migrants in New Zealand.
Somewhere a cleaner – Their voices in poetry and prose is available in bookshops (through
national distributor Nationwide) and online through the websites of Landing Press and
Nationwide Book Distributors.
Photo: Ibra Imomer a former refugee from war-torn Eritrea, worked as a cleaner after arriving in New Zealand
in 2008 and continued cleaning (by night) to fund his studies at Victoria University.