Here is a link to a couple of the poems from Auscultation
Roadblock, was Seren’s featured Friday poem at the end of June and is the story of an evening visit to an injured horse. Below that is a video of Miss Freak’s Whelping Forceps, a poem about the design of this specialist instrument and how men and women have different approaches and ultimately
in the feral hours where instinct loosens
itself from shadows, it’s Miss Freaks we reach for
It’s a collection of poems written over the last 8 or 9 years but I suppose really a record of 30 years experience as a veterinary surgeon, stepmother and mother.
Auscultation means listening and specifically, in medicine, listening to sounds that come from the body’s internal organs. I have spent 30 years listening to animals and their inner sounds but also the concerns of owners and the stories of how animals play a central role in many of their lives. I’ve heard stories of cruelty and horror but also of such love and empathy I have been moved to tears. The consulting room really is a privileged place and the role of a veterinary surgeon can feel like a balance between healer, confessor and counselor at times.
The language of animals; how to restrain, coax and understand them is a skill learnt over a lifetime and I am still learning. I am constantly in awe of animals, their ability to adapt to situations and interpret them, their stubbornness, playfulness and honesty and in the case of horses and farm animals, their sheer bulk and majesty too. There are also poems about euthanasia and ending an animal’s life, the part of the job that all vets dread. These are the animals that wake you in the dark hours and make you question what you do. It’s a sad fact that the veterinary profession has the highest rate of suicide of any of the professions and this is explored in a few of the poems.
Other poems in the book are about my childhood and my experiences of being a stepmother and mother and the rollercoaster ride that parenthood takes you on. Here, listening and being listened to are central themes too, how the voice of a child can be ignored and the damage that can do and how we interpret motherhood according to our own experiences. The last section in the book is about being a step mother, the joy and heartache that brought and how, in fairy stories, stepmothers are always portrayed as the evil ones. These poems are deeply personal and a record from my point of view and of course the situation for all blended families is different and highly nuanced.
There will be a launch reading on Zoom on 13th July. Do get in touch if you’d like to be sent an invitation.
What is the most important part of the poem? the title, the form, the rhyme scheme? The title certainly has to grab your attention, are we more likely to read a poem called A Martian Send a postcard Home ( Craig Raine) or Summer Sun for example? (apologies to anyone who has written a poem titled this..)
Once you’ve been grabbed by the title, you then read the first line and this is where the hard work of the poet begins because the first line has to hook you into reading the rest of the poem. If you’re not hooked you won’t read on and if you’re submitting poems to busy editors, the title and the first line is maybe all they’ll read, so it has a lot of work to do to make you have to stand out from the crowd.
So what are some fantastic first lines?
‘Hope’ is the thing with feathers – Emily Dickinson
‘Shit are we lost?’ – Debora Lidov, The Drama of the Gifted Hansel.
Wench, yowm the colour of ower town: – Liz Berry Birmingham Roller
Do not go gentle into that good night – Dylan Thomas
I took God with me to the sheep fair– Kerry Hardie, Sheep Fair Day
They’re all amazing in different ways, some jump straight into the action, some take you by the hand and lead you on, some express something in a way you’ve not thought of before and some set the tone or voice of the poem very firmly as in Liz Berry’s Black Country dialect.
Above all though, they press our curiosity button and make us want to read on.
It’s not the mistake you make, it’s how you deal with it that matters
This is a saying I used all the time at work and I found how people reacted to their mistakes was often a good judge of character. I preferred working with people who were open and honest; who, when they realised something had gone wrong, apologised for it and asked how they could do better in the future. rather than people who tried to deny or cover up their errors. It’s not easy when we’re embarrassed or ashamed but our reaction is a measure of who we are.
Recent events across the world involving people of power have shown their true character, even though we may have been pretty sure of it before. This is the poem that came out of events in recent weeks.
The photo? It’s a horse gag. Let us never be gagged.
The Measure of a Man
It’s not surrounding yourself with gimlet- eyed sycophants reclining on cushions in your own private echo chamber, it’s pulling out the barbs of critics from your skin, however hard they sting and seeing their truth; that is a measure of your humility.
It’s not indulging in the gluttony of the feast grabbing the tastiest titbits of wealth and supremacy, it’s in the modesty of taking only what you need and giving the rest to those without hope or privilege; that is a measure of your morality.
It’s not the self-delusion of seeing the world through the eyes of your own class or colour, it’s having the courage to walk unfamiliar streets and greeting those you meet openly and with enquiry; that is a measure of your understanding.
It’s not how you accept the responsibility of power put on it dazzling crown, wield its weighty sceptre, it’s how you step down from the throne and pass on those enticing burdens to waiting hands; that is a measure of your grace.
Do not go ungraciously history will remember you for it.
Great to be involved in this initiative from the Cambridge Writing Retreat. A poem every day in June. Honoured to be in the company of some amazing poets. Have a listen, post some feedback .Listen to the poem here
I’ve just realised that the poem we created in the poetry workshops last year is up on the Festival website! We had such a great time, the participants were enthusiastic and inspiring, all I really had to do was draw the whole thing together. I’m running the workshops again this year, they are open to all ages and suitable for people that write poems regularly or people that have never written one before. Rumours are, there’ll also be an open mic this year…
Do come and join me, you can just come to the poetry events or join in with some of the other amazing music, singing or dancing events. Folk week really is one of the most special weeks of the year, ‘a rainbow coloured riot of colour and sound’