Poems of Compassion by Gretchen PrimackPosted by Jennifer Molidor, ALDF Staff Writer on January 8, 2014
This 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
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
to your conditions, cut off
from my life
and language. None of me
is left; still
you found something
Certainly, 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