Friday Poem – ‘The Calving’ by Ilse Pedler

This week’s Friday Poem is ‘The Calving’ by Ilse Pedler from her debut poetry collection Auscultation.

This cover shows an image of a stethoscope against a white background with an orange butterfly resting on the cord.

Ilse Pedler is a veterinary surgeon who works in Kendal. Her debut collection is Auscultation, which means listening and specifically, in medicine, listening to sounds that come from the body’s internal organs. If listening is a central theme of this collection, it is also about being heard. There are poems about vets waiting rooms and surgical instruments, about crisis calls, about overhearing farmers and pet owners and colleagues. There are also poems about surviving a stern childhood and a heartbreaking sequence about being a stepmother.

The Calving
Straw hastily spread
crisps under the frost’s force,
a single dusty bulb
explores the darkness.
She stamps a warning,
twists her tethered head,
the whites of her eyes
moons of fear.
The cowman and his lad
stamp their numbing toes,
thick square hands
freezing on the halter’s buckle.
I prepare ropes and a jack,
roll up my sleeves,
take off my watch and ring,
push them deep into my pocket.
I trail cold gel up my arm
like the track of a snail,
pinch my fingers together to ease
the passage and slip inside.
Following the wall of the womb
I touch nose and ear,
inch loops of rope
over knuckles of hooves,
twist the ends over the hooks
on the jack and start to pull.
She bellows her pain,
crushes my bones on hers.
We both strain to birth
this new life - and only she
and I are warm,
and I am at the warmth’s core.

Auscultation is available on the Seren website: £9.99

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Friday Poem – ‘Roadblock’ by Ilse Pedler

This week’s Friday Poem is ‘Roadblock’ by Ilse Pelder from her newly published debut collection Auscultation.

The cover of Auscultation shows a photograph of a stethoscope lying on a white background. An orange and red butterfly is resting on the cord.

Ilse Pedler is a veterinary surgeon who works in Kendal. Her debut collection is Auscultation, which means listening and specifically, in medicine, listening to sounds that come from the body’s internal organs. If listening is a central theme of this collection, it is also about being heard. There are poems about vets waiting rooms and surgical instruments, about crisis calls, about overhearing farmers and pet owners and colleagues. There are also poems about surviving a stern childhood and a heartbreaking sequence about being a stepmother.

“Unique and utterly original.” – Kim Moore

Roadblock
The night is a vast blank letter waiting
to be written and suddenly here are the words:
blue and red interrupting the darkness
glancing off shocked faces,
hi-vis jackets, shoulders hunched
against bad news, stationary cars.
I lower my window, say I am the vet
and am waved on through.
In the road a horse, spotlit, head down,
resting a leg as though tired from a ride,
no blood, just trembling under my hands,
steam beading the fine hairs on its flared nostrils,
and that leg; it is like a child’s drawing,
bones angled all the wrong way.
I don’t have what I need and am taken
to the surgery, speed elongating
the streetlights, then back past journeys
put on hold, through the roadblock
to the horse and its bent back leg,
sweat starting to carve rivers in his coat, his heat
and the pulse of him that I can feel still
through the rigid cold of the gun.

Auscultation is available now. As it is Independent Bookshop Week, why not buy through bookshop.org.

We’re hosting the online launch for Auscultation on Tuesday 13th July from 7pm. Register to join us for free via Eventbrite here https://www.eventbrite.co.uk/e/159986866023.

Watch Ilse reading her poem ‘Miss Freak’s Whelping Forceps’, also from Auscultation:

Ilse Pedler: Being a Poet and a Vet

This week we publish Ilse Pedler’s debut collection Auscultation. In this post she reflects on finding time to write around her career as a vet and how this inspires her poetry.

The cover of Auscultation shows a stethoscope against a white background with an orange and brown butterfly resting on the chord. Beneath the image is an orange box with the title and author name.

Auscultation means listening and specifically, in medicine, listening to sounds that come from the body’s internal organs. If listening is a central theme of this collection, it is also about being heard. Ilse Pedler is poet of breadth and depth. There are poems about waiting rooms and surgical instruments, about crisis calls, about overhearing farmers and pet owners and colleagues. There are poems about surviving a stern childhood and a heartbreaking sequence about being a stepmother. This is a compelling set of poems from a striking new voice.

“Unique and utterly original.” – Kim Moore

How do you juggle writing poetry with a demanding career, particularly a career like veterinary medicine? Being a vet is not so much a job as a way of life. You come to live to the rhythms of animals, their needs take priority over your own. Work becomes a river; fluid, broken over rocks, never ceasing.

I’ve always written but during university and early years in practice, life as a vet was so all-consuming, poetry was squeezed to the very periphery. Slowly though, it began to filter back, sometimes it was people’s stories, sometimes it was the relationship between an animal and its owner. I started to feel the need to write down what I was experiencing. I also became frustrated at how little time I had to devote to poetry, until I went to a reading by Dennis O’Driscoll who worked full time through all his career. His comment on the dilemma of work and poetry was ‘Just write’. This became my mantra in the following years and I found myself jotting down fragments and ideas in between seeing clients or after I had finished an operation and on more than one occasion, I pulled over into a layby on the way back from a visit to write a few lines.

At first, I was hesitant about sharing my poems. I thought, because I hadn’t studied English or had a background in the arts, my work probably wasn’t up to much. It wasn’t until I went on a poetry course and another participant said, ‘isn’t it wonderful, you have a second language.’ I realised that being a vet may actually have its advantages.

As a vet I had a rich variety of experiences and emotions to draw on. I’ve seen cases of cruelty and neglect but also moments of extreme tenderness and dedication, I’ve known people go without food so they can afford medication for their pets and I’ve known people whose only reason for getting up in the morning is their animals. The consulting room is a privileged place and consulting effectively is an art as well as a science. The ability to draw out the back story and to get to the heart of the matter is a skill that is learnt over time. Farms are also unique; they are places of rough practicality and particular language; there is a bluntness there but also a gentleness.

We vets spend a lot of our time reading and writing clinical notes. They are our observations of patients and although factual, these notes are far from ‘clinical’, they are a record of what we’ve seen, felt, heard or smelt. Medical language is full of colour and dimension, it is muscular and vital. We observe our patients closely and we record what we feel about them. I found not only did I did have a whole other language to draw on but I had a scientist’s eye for detail and precision.

I feel so incredibly privileged to be a vet; animals have an honesty and in the case of animals like horses and cattle, a majesty too. They love and trust unconditionally and I am constantly inspired by them. If I can capture any of this in my poems, I will feel I have truly become a poet.

Ilse Pedler

Ilse Pedler’s debut collection Auscultation is available on the Seren website: £9.99

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