Hawke’s Bay locals share tales from life as cleaners

Who knew cleaning could be so poetic?

Three Hawke’s Bay locals have shared their experiences cleaning in the recently launchedSomewhere, a Cleaner – Their voices in poetry and prose book.

Napier Live Poets MC Jeremy Roberts has been writing poems for 40 years, but he was also once a cleaner – at uni and after coming home from his OE.

Though he had unique experiences, he said he’d never thought about sharing them until he heard about the book.

“It was something I carried with me for years.”

His poem revisit some of the less pleasant parts of the job, such as lab animals, cadavers and institutional racism – like when Roberts was offered a management position over more experienced staff.

“I had to admit myself that when confronted with racism I failed in my duty.

“The question is would this happen today?”

He was inspired by the book and said it was timely with Covid-19.

“Cleaning became suddenly on everybody’s mind. They’re essential workers.

“The appreciation was finally given.”

He hoped it would help people develop an interest or maybe affirm a love of poetry.

“It’s so wonderful the way so many first-time writers have gotten their work published.”

Poetry writing was entirely new to Melissa Puna of Waipukurau, who wrote about her experiences cleaning at CHB Health Centre for the past six months.

“One of the nurses at work encouraged me to give it a go.

“We worked together and came up with Wake Up Call.

“She got me thinking about the things I observe as I work but it was also important to include things I do away from work – my whānau, sport.”

Puna still works part-time as a cleaner at CHB Health Centre but recently started a new part-time job there as an occupational therapist.

She said she hoped people would gain an appreciation for what cleaners do and how they contribute to the workplace, as well as the fact they “have lives away from work”.

She felt people had gained a better appreciation for what cleaners did following Covid-19.

Chairman of the Te Poho o Kahunganunu marae in Porangahau, Anthony Tipene-Matua, wrote about the cleansing of his ancestral home.

He shares a long affiliation with the site, his great-great-grandfather having opened the whare in 1875.

“We were brought up on the marae.

“It’s like our second home.”

A school teacher who has composed many songs before, he said his daughter Te Rongomai Tipene-Matua – who is a key member of the Landing Press team which published the book – encouraged him to write a piece for the collection.

“I think they wanted a variety of takes on what cleansing could be.

“For me it’s that holistic process of clearing the path in front of you and making a new start.”

It came at a time when the marae was undergoing a lot of work, and he said “it was meant to be”.

He said Māori, particularly marae speakers, were natural poets and encouraged te reo Māori speakers and people on marae to “give poetry a go”.

“They’ve got the natural affiliation with the land.

“I think it’s something we can offer to the next generation.

“It’s really important when you get older that you connect with where you are from and your turangawaiwai.”

Somewhere a cleaner – Their voices in poetry and proseis available in bookshops and online through the websites of Landing Press and Nationwide Book Distributors.

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