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.
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.
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