Friday, February 22, 2019

Here now the Sun: a poem for Valentina Tereshkova, the first woman in space

I. Ready for launch

The suit is working well.
The inflow stream is working well.
I’m ready for launch.
I feel excellent.
Everything is normal.
I’m not a delicate lady.
Everything is normal on board.
I’m ready for launch.
I’m taking up the initial position.
Feeling excellent.

II. Launch

The vehicle’s moving smoothly,
vehicle’s moving smoothly.
I feel excellent.
Vehicle’s moving well.
I feel good.
I feel good.
I see the Earth on the porthole.
I feel excellent.
The Earth is very beautiful.
The vehicle is moving smoothly.
I see the Earth in the porthole,
slightly obscured by clouds.

III. Orbit

I’ll do everything that I need to do.
I don’t understand.
I didn’t see anything.
I feel excellent.
The clock is moving.
I see the horizon through the observation port.
I see the Earth in the observation port.
I feel excellent.
All systems on the vehicle are working perfectly.
Everything is excellent,
I hear you perfectly.

IV. The other cosmonaut

I hear you perfectly,
I feel excellent.
I feel excellent, excellent.
I’m approaching Cape Horn. At the outer ring …
The little star disappeared, wasn’t that you?
Don’t go far from me, my friend.
I can’t see the Moon.
The stars are passing further up.
I am seeing such a bright star.

V. The ships are on their way

The vehicle is responding perfectly, perfectly.
From the southern point I called him,
he’s silent,
from the north,
the same.
At our harbour the ships are silently smoking… 

Can you hear?
For the real boys, the harbour is the native home,
comrade to comrade,
they’ll always stand together.
And far far away, 
the ships are on their way,
and all who are young at heart,
stand shoulder to shoulder.

VI. Fourth orbit

19 hours 25 minutes
I sang songs for him
In the centre,
such a blue spot.
Here now the Sun
so orange, not red,
not light red, but
I’m also feeling excellent.
Here now the Sun
visible and lit up.
In the outer ring
the horizon is visible.
It’s a very beautiful sight.
at first it’s light blue,
then lighter,
then dark…

VII. Greetings to all the women of the world

Soviet women!
Greetings to all Soviet women.
I wish you personal good luck
and great success
Women of the world!
Greetings to you from space.
I wish you good luck
and success...

VIII. The flight is normal

Cabin pressure 1.15
Humidity 61 percent
Temperature 23 degrees
Carbon dioxide 0.1
Oxygen 250
Pulse 84-90-100
Breathing 22
I feel excellent.
See you soon in the homeland!
I hear you perfectly, perfectly.
The flight is proceeding normally.
All systems of the ship are working perfectly.
I feel excellent.
I hear you.
I’m waiting.
Everything is excellent.
The spaceship is working perfectly.
I’m in good spirits.
I feel excellent.
I hear everything well.
The flight is normal.
All systems on the ship are working perfectly.
Pressure in the suit 1 atmosphere
Humidity 40 percent
Temperature 28 degrees
Carbon dioxide 0.2 percent
Oxygen 200
All systems on the ships are working excellently.
I feel excellent.

IX. Dear Nikita Sergeyevich

Dear Nikita Sergeyevich!
I will use all my strength and knowledge to fully complete the flight
‘Till we meet again soon on our Soviet land.
Moscow, Kremlin.
I am reporting.
Dear Nikita Sergeyevich Khrushchev.
The flight is proceeding normally.
All systems on the ship are working perfectly.
I feel excellent. 
Thanks to all the Soviet people
See you soon in the homeland!
Dear Nikita Sergeyevich,
deeply touched by your attention.
With all my heart
Dear Nikita Sergeyevich!
I will use all my strength and knowledge to fully complete the flight,
‘Till we meet again soon on our Soviet land.

X. Shadows

There aren’t enough fingers to block the Sun.
It’s very sunny, difficult to see
at the present a very bright sun,
illuminating the very high clouds...
the horizon above the bright clouds
transitions into shadows.
The dark sky is visible in the survey viewport.
The flight is proceeding normally.
I feel excellent.

XI. This is Chayka

This is Chayka. Over.
This is Chayka. Over.
This is Chayka. Over.
This is Chayka. Over.
This is Chayka. Over.
This is Chayka. Over.
This is Chayka. Over.
This is Chayka. Over.
This is Chayka. Over.


This is a poem made using a technique called erasure, removing words from an existing text to create a new one. The words are from an edited transcript of Valentina Tereshkova's spaceflight. In 1963, she was the first woman to enter space and remains the only on to have performed a solo mission. 

I took the transcript from a paper by space historian Asif Siddiqi. This was not a complete transcript, so poem is only constructed from what Siddiqi reproduced, and of course it is important to remember that the transcript is translated from Russian to English. The transcript lent itself to short, repetitive sentences. My influences in taking this form were Gertrude Stein and HD, particularly her poem Eurydice. Another influence is Christine Rueter (@tychogirl), who first made me aware that poems existed within other texts, waiting to be brought out.

I used only Valentina's words; I wanted to maker her voice front and central, give her a narrative that was purely from her perspective without the judgement of others. She was in conversation with many people during the flight, including Yuri Gagarin, the first man in space, and Soviet leader Nikita Khrushchev. I erased anyone who wasn't Valentina, and then removed paragraphs, sentences or parts of sentences to arrive at the poems you read here.

The other cosmonaut referred to was Valery Bykovsky, who was orbiting at the same time. They were supposed to sing a duet together from their separate spacecraft, but in the end Valentina sang by herself. In 'The ships are on their way', the latter part of the poem is from two different Russian songs, ‘Textile Town’, a 1960s hit by Mikhail Tanich, and ‘Friendship Song’, according to Siddiqi. This was Valentina's own mash-up within the text.

Valentina's flight was heavily criticised and constantly dissected. She was, in fact, not feeling excellent, but in the circumstances unable to admit this - a common problem for astronauts in the USSR and US. Space sickness was poorly understood, and admission of anything less than perfection could risk future flights. In addition, an engineer had made a mistake - the Vostok capsule was programmed to ascend, but not to descent. Valentina discovered this a few hours into her flight, which must have been a shock. The error was rectified, fortunately.

The sequence, with one exception when I moved text about the Sun to the same poem, is in the order in which it was spoken, so represents the chronological unfolding of her mission.

The final verse is made up of a phrase which was used repeatedly throughout the transcript. Tereshkova's callsign was Chayka (seagull). At the end of every segment of speech, she says 'This is Chakya. Over'; so I made this the end of the poem sequence. She repeats 'Over', but the poem does not include return to Earth. I wanted to create the impression that this was a moment in time, that she might still be out there, suspended, her state of existence ambiguous. Like she's flying into the sun, and the brightness of the sun prevents us from following her trajectory any further, fading her out like the radio signal.

Siddiqi, Asif  2009 Transcripts give new perspective on Vostok-6 mission. The first woman in Earth orbit. Spaceflight 51: 18-57


  1. This is incredible! What an interesting exercise, and touching result.

  2. Thanks Laura! Perhaps I'll do some more.....