Poems of Compassion by Gretchen Primack

Posted by Jennifer Molidor, ALDF Staff Writer on January 8, 2014

KindCoverThis week, ALDF features Kind, and asks you to explore the genre of compassionate poetry. In this book, author Gretchen Primack directs her focus on the world of animals. With quiet imagery, Gretchen captures the essential heart of our relationships with nonhuman animals—for better, and sadly, worse. Many of these issues echo the work the Animal Legal Defense Fund does in the courts to help win rights for and improve the lives of all animals. Gretchen, who lives in New York’s famed Hudson Valley (home of a gigantic producer of cruel force-fed foie gras that ALDF has successfully taken to task), presents poems about factory farms, hunting, companion animals neglected, to the simple yet profound interconnections between the species, and takes on all matter of animal rights issues. Some poems are gentle and invoke the beauty of a picnic on a warm day, while others pull back the iron screen that hides the brutal world of slaughterhouses, the workers who work in them, and the destruction of kindness that ensues in such a horrific environment of cruelty and pain.

Kind refers, I think, both to the idea of kindness—a compassionate center amongst a cruel world—and the bias of speciesm that blinds humans to the experiences of animals. Kindred spirits, we are all of the same kind. Consider this line from “Egg” after describing a hen suffering in unimaginable close confinement, “it feels like that. Blister it on the gas. Feed on it/ It makes us who we are.” Veganism sounds like a good idea, after reading Gretchen’s revelations of animal suffering. And her attention to the sentience of animals, the empathetic reach to the experience as animals experience them, is what makes this selection of poems enjoyable. In “Matter” she asks, “what if a fish/mattered as much as you/matter—if you do.”

The captivity industry takes hits as well, of course. A stinger is her poem, “Ringling.”

Maybe someday you will trick

for me.

Maybe I will find value in you

on one foot.


I will take you from family,


so I can watch you



Will you bore me? I bore myself

now, reduced

to your conditions, cut off

from my life

and language. None of me

is left; still

you found something

to waste.

deborah-kindCertainly, this book is no child’s book. The power of poetry is the ability to move the reader, with just a few carefully chosen words. Selected rhythms and cadence chosen wisely can strike at the essence of an experience and send truth deep into the heart of a reader. Poetry is an epiphany, when done well—a revelation and an awakening. Here, in Kind, that awakening is of cruelty to animals and our interdependence upon them. It isn’t easy or meant to be scrolled through with a short attention span. And yet, that is why Kind, a very slim volume with quiet sketches of animals and short poems, is both powerful and accessible. In this way, the reader engages with important animal rights issues and sees animals in the light of an artist. They certainly deserve no less—and this volume is worth reading!

We enjoyed Gretchen’s writing as co-author of The Lucky Ones: My Passionate Fight for Farmed Animals with Woodstock Animal Sanctuary’s founder, Jenny Brown. Gretchen Primack is also the author of several books, including Doris’ Red Spaces and The Slow Creaking of Planets and her poetry has been published in numerous journals of excellent repute, including The Paris Review and The Antioch Review. The book is available at gretchenprimack.com/kind.

Buy the Book

Don’t want to wait? You can buy a copy of the book by visiting: gretchenprimack.com/kind

2 thoughts on “Poems of Compassion by Gretchen Primack

  1. Suzanne Perot says:

    Kindness does start at home. I’ll do the very best that I can for my own family members and family pets. I will pay it forward whenever I can. I will help to change laws that are cruel to animals such as the current farm animals laws. In British Columbia, Canada, Community Charter 49 allows animal control to come into your home, seize your pet for little or no reason and euthanize it. They can hold your pet in the SPCA/pound for days, weeks, even years. It has happened. Many dogs have died this way. I have to say I have more compassion for the animals than the humans. The humans are responsible for this cruelty, from SPCA, local law enforcement, court system and it is rife all over B.C. I will continue to fight for the animals, and when I see cruelty, I will step in and try to stop it. I will be active in petitions and approaching government officials (those humans, again, who sometimes make animals’ lives miserable) and I will never forget Chum, the beautiful, sweet tempered Newfoundland who suffered needlessly in the pound for two years, alone, scared, while courts wrangled and humans dithered. She was released from dog jail (she had never bitten anything) and was not dangerous. She died two months later from bone cancer that the vets who had been court appointed failed to diagnose…or, rather, did not bother to treat her for this painful condition. Now her lifelong mate, Champ, is alone and as irony would have it, he lives only two doors away from the judge who sentenced his mate to death. Champ had been in dog jail as well, separated from Chum for months as ‘dangerous dogs’. Well, judge and people who helped kill Chum, how do you feel, knowing you were wrong? You killed Chum the same as if you had put a gun to her head and she was innocent as you knew all along. Animals are sentient beings, even though the Regional District in Courtenay (one of the directors) says that is not true! But it is true. They feel the same things that we humans do and perhaps they feel it even more. They sense much more than we do. I have been heartbroken over Chum. I did go into the SPCA at night and I took her away from her hell…from filth on the floor that she was made to sleep in, from lonliness..sometimes she would just howl, moan and cry. Do you want to tell me, Regional District, SPCA, and court that this did not contribute to her getting bone cancer? So, yes, I was kind to Chum and removed her from this horrible place. Isn’t SPCA supposed to be about PREVENTING CRUELTY? They seem to endorse it. They would not allow Chum to have her own vet or see anyone from her family, only one person on certain days. So Chum and I escaped for awhile and we thought she was free. But, again, a human interferred and Chum was sent back to dog jail. I was arrested, then let go. I believe that some laws are made to be broken, and Community Charter 49 is one of those manmade, poorly written diabolical treatises that need to be abolished. What can I do to be more kind to animals? Make sure that this Charter is wiped out and animal control officers cannot march into your home and take your pet, just because a neighbor says your dog did this or that. Without proof, and operating on heresay, and neighborhood vendettas, dogs have been euthanized here in B.C. and it is still going on. Read the Not So Dangerous Dogs of B.C. facebook page. What can I do to be more kind to humans? I’m not sure..some humans aren’t human, as John Prine, the singer says.

  2. I believe poetry is a wonderful medium to express yourself, your views and feelings – especially on such a serious issue as animal cruelty/abuse/exploitation. I’m looking forward to reading “Kind” and would like to add it to our public library’s collection. I myself have found that writing poetry is an outlet for me also – not that I am a writer by any means – but a friend told me if you write from your heart – you can’t go wrong. http://freetonythetiger.wordpress.com/a-poem-for-tony/

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