Keith Gottschalk, Beginning of a Beginning

Cape Town poet, Keith Gottschalk, has a series of poems about space exploration. It started, I recall, with poems about the Soviet space programme, but has broadened beyond that.

Here’s a poem celebrating Yuri Gagarin’s orbit around the earth:

Beginning of a Beginning*

Syr Dar’ya, ancient river that flows down to the Aral river that flows up to the sky….

“All that you see is only the beginning of a beginning”
– Korolev’s words to visitors to Baikonur cosmodrome.

Syr Dar’ya
ancient river that flows down to the Aral
river that flows up to the sky.

Tyuratam, where Mongols racing like arrows broke camp,
Tyuratam, which for this new journey
grew Leninsk, Zvezdograd, Baikonur Cosmodrome.
Today, the kid from Gzhatsk
graduate of Luberetsky Craft School,
a foundryman’s certificate,
will do work with metal as never done before
by man, nor woman, nor bird.

Today plants the first karagach tree
in Kazakstan’s avenue of karagach.

Yuri Alexeyevich Gagarin
first person to orbit the Earth:

– explorer who rocketed up 180ks!
– test pilot who flew around the world in 89 minutes!
– foundryman who descended through the fireball!

“Zarya? Kedr:

When weightlessness appears, objects swim in the cabin.
the light surface of the Earth
the black sky with stars
the dividing line is thin, a film
surrounding the Earth’s sphere.
It’s a delicate blue colour, & this transition
from the blue to the dark is gradual & lovely.
It’s difficult to put it into words. Over.”

12th of April 1961:
this day knows only 108 minutes:
this day saw the beginning of a beginning.

Tyuratam (Mongolian) – Broken Arrow, name of town.
Zvezdograd (Rus) – Starry Town
karagach (Kazakh) – each cosmonaut plants a tree before liftoff.
poyekhali! (Rus) – we’re moving!
Zarya, Kedr (Rus) – Aurora, Ceder – radio call signs of rocket designer Korolev & cosmonaut Gagarin respectively.

–Keith Gottschalk


Search for ‘Keith Gottschalk’ to find more of his poems about things cosmonautical at Astronautix.

2 Responses to Keith Gottschalk, Beginning of a Beginning

  1. Sean Jacobs says:

    Isn’t studying the space race Gottschalk’s research focus or was?

  2. RK says:

    You mean as in professionally? I don’t know. I know Keith from late 1980s COSAW days, specifically from the ‘Lansdowne Local’, which used to meet at Peter Horn’s house (then a professor of German at UCT). I think it was probably in the early 1990s that Keith started writing poems about space. I never drew a connection between the poetry and his academic fields.

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