Winner of the Mslexia magazine pamphlet competition, poet Ilse Pedler often writes from her perspective as a working Veterinary Surgeon. From her earliest days as a student of Applied Zoology at Bangor University, where she worked with hill sheep and had to visit an abattoir in Caernarfon, she has been involved at close-quarters with animals.
Her deep knowledge and genuine love of them informs this art, from the first poem ‘The Complete Science’ where the poet remembers her days as a student in Anatomy classes at Cambridge, and contrasts the formal scientific nomenclature: ‘I clung to Miller’s dissection guide like my first alphabet…’ with her working life: ‘a theatre with a different audience’ and replete with ‘knowledge of the skin’s elasticity, its unexpected warmth’.
Not only does the author observe animals and capture their moods and characteristics, such as the “rat dart” of a terrier, or the “rhythmic, grunting lullaby” of a sow, she also observes the human behavior, sometimes poignant, often comic, in her surgery: “I’m listening when he growls and you say ‘don’t worry, he won’t bite you’ / I’m listening when he tries to bite me.”
A secondary theme is secrets: those we keep from others, those we keep from ourselves, those nature keeps from us, as in ‘Suturing Secrets’, where observation becomes also a meditation on the paradox of the beauty of damaged flesh: “We are divided into compartments,/separated by taught membranes,/glistening planes of connective tissue, resilient boundaries.”
The poet is adept in both formal and ‘experimental’ free measures. ‘The Importance of Air’ is a narrative sestina that reflects the awful repetition of factory farming. ‘Final Drawings’ is a beautifully-judged sonnet, an elegy to a friend. Readers will appreciate the intelligence and dynamism of the poetic talent on display in Ilse Pedler’s The Dogs that Chase Bicycle Wheels.