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Ilse Pedler
Publication Date: 
Monday, June 21, 2021
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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.


In this unique and utterly original collection, Ilse Pedler explores the brutal and beautiful world of being a vet and a stepmother. This is a book filled with blood, but also with air and light, a book of hard-won knowledge, a book that is both pragmatic and tender, about listening and being listened to, and the types of care we give and receive.” – Kim Moore

‘Listen’, listen closely, these poems ask. Draw near and pay intimate attention to the minute beats and actions that surround and connect us – those of animals, other humans, and the environment. As a practising veterinary surgeon ‘at the warmth’s core’, Pedler explores the daily dramas and dilemmas of the consulting room, the operating theatre, the field, and brings in wider themes of scientific knowledge, family, fairytales, and belonging. The precision in her language matches the precision in her noticing, as we recognise how ‘our bodies are never silent’ and she helps us marvel at ‘the soft persistence of tissue’.” – Heidi Williamson


Ilse Pedler reads her poem ‘Miss Freak’s Whelping Forceps’


Watch the full online launch of Auscultation here:



Review by Kate Ashton, London Grip Poetry Review

Friday, August 20, 2021

To read Ilse Pedler’s collection is to be fully awoken to the concept of our ‘stewardship’ of the Earth. This means to hear and touch and smell the creatures over which we hold dominion and to rasp, for the moment of a poem, the full extent of our ignorance, arrogance and brutality – and indeed our real responsibility. To feel in our hands the cool probe, the blade, while through our mind there is a flash of steely resistance to our intimate animal self. This is something the pet-owner may cloak in sentiment, but which, for the veterinary surgeon, is considered a necessity, a learned skill. Pedler refuses to acquire it, expressing in her poetry the vulnerability of her position with all the tenderness and control required of her profession.

‘The consulting room,’ she writes in a recent blog post, ‘is a privileged place and the role of veterinary surgeon can feel like a balance between healer, confessor and counsellor’. And of a practitioner of euthanasia… ‘These are the animals that wake you in the dark hours and make you question what you do’. Stating the fact that hers has the highest suicide rate of any profession, she quietly adds that ‘this is explored in a few of the poems’. Just how powerfully and viscerally is demonstrated in the second poem of her collection, “Teach Me to Kill”:

indicate the important bits,
the bits I’ll be tested on at the end of term
in the multiple-choice question paper

along with my fellow students;
the hangman, the slaughter men,
the ones who draw up lethal injections


Teach me to kill in the smallest lecture theatre
with the unmarked door. Teach me the tricks
of the trade, how to kill and then carry on.

And so to “Every Time a Performance”, in which ‘We emerge – stage left – like ghosts/in our pale green gowns/bowed at the back’ and ‘transactions occur,/blood beads urgently/from the lines we draw’.

There follow reveries on surgical instruments, lined up for ‘solving the problems/of the soft persistence of tissue’. And we get a gently wry commentary on differing approaches to the job. In “Miss Freak’s Whelping Forceps”, whose delicacy, slim shanks and ‘small angled loops to cup the head and ease it through, lie displayed ‘wrapped in cloth in a Gladstone bag/boiled in second best saucepans’ on velvet in the museum vitrine’. They sit alongside far more robust tools used for the same task:

How they laboured, these men
with their unforgiving fists of metal
but in the feral hours where instinct loosens
itself from shadows, it’s Miss Freak’s we reach for
to coax the unborn to crown the light.

The birthing of beasts is rendered graphically and poetically in “The Calving”, where vet and cow ‘both strain to birth/this new life – and only she/and I are warm,/and I am at the warmth’s core.’ In this poem, and also in “Neighbours”, what comes across is the deep respect with which the poet regards this recurring miracle, and her anguish at the travesty of treatment often involved in livestock breeding. Agonising too is the conveyor-belt that brings our bacon to the table; crate after metal crate of doomed creatures, intelligence and sensibility denied, stripped of any modicum of dignity or comfort…‘Piglets deprived of teats scatter,/duck into the creep and safety of the lamp’.

“The Importance of Air” begins with early evening sun on pastureland as the herd is ushered to the milking parlour. Here ear tags are checked, each cow

a number and in the office, each number, a cow’s
worth of statistics and a coloured pin on the heavy
circular chart on the office wall...blue for calving...

The cow ‘breathes in calf all night long’, until

In the morning the stockman gives the order to hold the cow
and before she can turn the calf is gone. Her udder swells, heavy
with milk but he’ll be back to take her to the parlour before long.

(This is so unrelenting a depiction of modernity that the mind flees for consolation to the personal history of dairy farming documented by Janet Sutherland in her recent collection, Home Farm (Shearsman Books, 2019), an exquisite memorialising of a not-so-distant landscape studded with water meadows where she called the herd home by name through drifts of wild flowers, and once, ethereally, when only their heads were visible above the mist.)

Pedler reminds us of creaturely innocence, and tenderness, again and again. She tells us that the sow sings her sucklings a lullaby (“Grunting Up”); and that the testicles of ‘sweet-breathed calves’… ‘silver glazed/pulsating with the last of their lives’, end up in a bucket, a treat for the workhouse collies, last morsels chucked to the chickens. How faithfully, how humbly they serve us; how neglectful we of the debt owed.

The first formal experiment comes with “Ploughing”, in which the word ‘turn’ closes each line of a two-paragraph prose poem describing the ploughman’s art retrospectively. The poem glances back from today’s precision farming using GPS-driven tractor to a time when

                                                                                ….judging the point to turn
at the end of the field and lift the plough took time and patience to learn; turn
too slowly and the lifted plough may get caught in trees and prevent the turn
altogether. …

This repetitive, meditative poem ‘turns’ finally and inevitably from consideration of ‘the importance of other things’ towards the ploughman’s ultimate goal of ‘the Earth’s rim’; the inflection of loss and desolation perfectly judged.

Reflections on human parenting, childhood, pain, sickness and lost life form a fulcrum for the collection, where at a hospital bedside members of a waiting family ‘let our eyes drift from the window to our cups of tea’ while somewhere else a magpie reconnoitres a blackbird’s nest, seizes a fledgling as the parent birds with a ‘frenzy of raucous screaming in dive after dive batter the thief with their wings…small fists beating against your chest’.

The title of the eponymous poem, “Auscultation”, means listening and the poem depicts the origins of sounds and how they reach the ear, both naked and through a stethoscope. Externally generated noise mutates into those subtle waves emitted by the body from its inner truth and are again translated out towards the world… ‘murmur/it/ whisper/it /butterfly/ butterfly/butter/fly/ but’. The tempo, volume and frequency of sounds is evoked by syncopated, rhythmic, often broken or echoing lines.

In “All this accumulation of knowledge” Pedler casts a jaded eye over the totality of her expertise: ‘how to duck under barbed wire without breaking stride’… ‘where to find the sweet spot behind an old boar’s ear/and by scratching it – bring him to his knees’…

why looking away is sometimes the best option
how life leaves through the backs of eyes
when to tighten a grip – when to let go.

In “Roadblock” the unspoken grief of the job finds release in curt couplets. Pedler is called to a wounded horse, whose leg ‘is like a child’s drawing/bones angled all the wrong way’ and, not having with her the required implement, she rushes back to the surgery to fetch it then makes a hurtled return through the roadblock

to the horse and his 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.

Others to join the ghost creatures preserved in a “Cabinet of Curiosities” are the spectral rescued owl that arrived in a cardboard box, and a migratory wood snipe blown off course into ‘a grey town’. Other spectres arise out of the poet’s own childhood and that of her children and stepson and from the roles of motherhood and step-motherhood themselves. In “Mothering” a ewe is tricked into accepting an orphan lamb by rubbing it with the real mother’s glair, ‘The best way to acceptance is disguise’, but the villanelle ends up asking ‘can this conceive the love that ties?’ This is an excursion into formal technique that works better here than in the earlier “Behind City Doors”, where the pantoum seems forced and contrived.

The collection’s closing section, Fairy Tales and Step Monsters recalls separation from a much-loved child while custody is contested through the courts – an experience rendered as a fairytale as though transmission into myth might serve to soften the agony. But no disguise can work here either. No wish persuades the judge to use ‘words that would snip like scissors on her tongue,’…’and the silence would break her spell’. No salve for the impotence of the one so very close but yet not next-of-kin:

do not bother to search for the key to the last box,
the voice in there is of no importance.

Nor is there relief for “The Father in the Weeks Between Seeing his Son”: ‘I feel the place in my chest/that you flew to when you were born,/that each day you hollow into a deeper hollow…’

We’re told that the brothers Grimm faced such an outcry for making mothers the evil figure in their stories that they invented the stepmother, but

The truth is, neither of us was evil,
we both laid a trail of breadcrumbs
for you back to our doors.

Such compassion, courage and conciliation are the hallmarks of this lovely, unaffected and affecting first collection.


Review by Caroline Bracken, Nation Cymru

Saturday, July 10, 2021

Auscultation is Ilse Pedler’s first full collection, many of the poems inspired by her work as a vet including ‘Miss Freak’s Whelping Forceps’ first published in Butcher’s Dog. It is a fine example of these unsentimental, accomplished poems:

‘How they laboured, these men
with their unforgiving fists of metal
but in the feral hours where instinct loosens
itself from shadows, it’s Miss Freaks we reach for
to coax the unborn to crown the light.’

The detached tone of these poems is perfectly in line with the detachment necessary for the vet’s tasks:

‘Tools to clamp and grasp, to retract
muscle until you see the white strain
of fibres, to probe and dilate,
to ratchet back bone, exposing cavities,’ (‘Surgical Instruments’)

As the title of the collection implies, these poems are all about listening and being listened to but Pedler also has a fine ear for language, its musicality and cadences. This is showcased in the pantoum ‘Behind City Doors’ and the sestina ‘The Importance of Air’. This poet knows her craft and is at her best when she experiments with form such as in ‘The silence is’, ‘Auscultation’, ‘Voicemail’ which make use of white space and allow the poems’ content to be reflected in form:

Tick tock         non stop
footstep           raindrop
roof top           drum beat (‘Auscultation’)

Other poems in this ambitious collection address themes of family,

‘I come from a place where children were seen and not heard,
where mantelpiece clocks chimed the quarter hours
and lavender bags hung like seed pods in wardrobes’ (‘Unmade’)

The repetition of ‘I come from a place’ at the start of each stanza and the sentiment of the poem is reminiscent of Kim Moore’s ‘My People’, Langston Hughes’ poem of the same name, ‘I Come From’ by Dean Atta, and ‘For My People’ by Margaret Walker. In his new, second collection Karaoke King, Dai George has a similar poem ‘Soon Forward’ but he changes the refrain to ‘My family friends’.

‘My family friends were orators and preachers’ sons. Pit electricians, barristers, architects and clowns.’

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