ITS OBVIOUS, REALLY, THE CONNECTION between poetry—delicate as a soap bubble—and laundry, which requires soap. Neither can be hurried. Both leave you feeling so fresh, so clean.
But while Emily Dickinson probably had to bleach stubborn stains out of her white frock and Andrew Marvell’s coy mistress might have teased him about ring around the collar, it took Gabriel Baltierra, 25, to bring dark verse and dark socks decisively together in a Laundromat. Last November, Baltierra created poetry night at Launderland on Los Angeles’s Hyperion Avenue and Sunset Boulevard. Now, one Thursday eve per month, more than a dozen poets take turns spinning their (largely unpublished) verse before an audience of poetry buffs and bewildered launderers. Some listen, rapt. Others check the lint traps.
Although there are no restrictions on theme, meter or style (a few bards even bring their soiled clothes to wash), there is one ironclad rule. “Stay off the machines,” warns Baltierra, a deputy court clerk by day and a sometime performance artist who previously organized poetry readings in the subway. “The idea is to get poetry to the public. It’s the freedom-of-speech thing.”
On this salon de suds night, one poet reads a work with the intriguing title The Kumquat Telegram. From another’s tongue trips the curious line: “The echo of your voice was pounding at the pit of my stomach.” And writer Ron Frank, 32, a self-described “Hollywood man-about-town” and a laundropoet of a couple of months’ standing, sort of sums it all up:
“Poetry in a Laundromat is not a
waste of time
Lemon freshness, imagine that,
and then you get to hear some
Now add two couplets detergent.