Gretchen Primack is a poet, editor, and teacher living in New York's Hudson Valley.
She's the author of two poetry collections, Kind (Post-Traumatic Press 2013) and Doris' Red Spaces (Mayapple 2014), and a chapbook, The Slow Creaking of Planets (Finishing Line 2007). She co-wrote The Lucky Ones: My Passionate Fight for Farm Animals with Woodstock Farm Animal Sanctuary co-founder Jenny Brown (Penguin Avery 2012).
Gretchen is a passionate advocate for the rights and welfare of non-human animals and lives with several of them, along with a beloved human named Gus. She has been a union organizer, a working women's advocate, and a professor and administrator for a college program in a maximum-security men's prison.
Kind is being launched at Jivamukti Center: 841 Broadway, 2nd floor, NYC on Sunday, April 28 6-8 pm.
Susan Siegel, who created the Kind cover art and original drawings (see below) for the inside of the book will be selling prints. A portion of sales for both will be donated to Mercy for Animals.
Poets - indeed, all artists - look at the world critically, with a cocked head and a slightly-squinted eye. So much about our world is revealed that way, so artists play such valuable roles. But it seemed to me that poets weren't including other sentient beings in that gaze. Why not? Can we really not see beyond our species?
I wanted to take on the challenge of being that voice, and I also wanted to write about what it feels like to care about these issues in a world in which even most artists don't seem sensitive to them. (Since I began the project, I've become aware of several poets working in a similar vein, and I'm so thankful for that!)
I'm hoping that these poems will serve as a vehicle for change. We all have different means of entry into an issue. A friend's influence, a documentary, a performance art piece, a pamphlet--we open each other's eyes in such varied ways. Why not add poetry to the list? People usually read poems thoughtfully - it's a genre that lends itself to that - so people are often open to what poems have to say.
this evil, what is the good
of the good of your life?
The body floods with chemicals saying, Love this,
and she does, and births it; it is a boy
she begins to clean and nose, but he is dragged
away by his back feet. She will never touch him
again, though she hears him howl and calls back
for days. Her breast milk is banked for others. Her son
is pulled away to lie in his box.
He will be packed for slaughter. How ingenious
we are! To make product from byproduct.
To make use of the child,
kill and pack and truck him to plates. And when the gallons slow, we start over,
and her body says, Love this! And she does,
though in a moment she will never touch
him again. His milk is not for him. And when the milk slows too slow,
she will join him on the line, pounds
of ground. And how we will dine!
And talk of our glossy dogs! And her body
will break up on our forks, as mothers
beg us for the grain we stuffed her with,
and children beg us for the water
scouring her blood from the factory walls. And when her wastes and gases and panic
heat our air so hot our world stops
breathing-then will we stop? Then
will we grow kind, let the air cool
and mothers breathe?
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
to survive like this holds no glory.
- Pablo Neruda
Big pig, smart and fattened
to grotesque, I am not better
than you, though I am different:
I can speak my rage, build your crate.
You reason like a preschooler,
but he can ask for ham,
and a mother oblige. Pig, you will not see a sun in your life.
You will not know space
or mother. They will fatten you on harrowing
and hang you by a foot.
They will hack your neck
and you will struggle until your body
tears from its leg, and your foot
unleashes from its strap, and you pitch
to your own thick blood. And the man
with the knife, in his sadness,
he will kick and kick you,
and the ten after you, and the ten after,
the ten and ten after, speaking his rage:
Die, heartbreaking beast.
And a few more:
So this is restriction: a thousand tastes
of compassion, the crisp and the dissolving,
the bowl of comfort and the bowl of bracing sour,
what is mashed and crunched, split and whole.
The zippers of wheat, the burst of a mango, the tiny
skin peeling itself from a perfect bean,
a hundred plump grains and a hundred plump
nuts and seeds, the geneses
of tall green stretches and fat green leaves.
That is what becomes my mouth
and body and my heart, and it is
my joy, and kindness, and plenty.
Peas snug in their sweet green
coats, tea snug in its thermos,
absolutely orange tomatoes. Mice
root and clack and fill
their little lungs, each eye bright
as a berry. It is easy to forget Hell
here, and that is what we talk about:
Hell, and forgetting it. Once
I tried to save a bee, named
and cared for and cried for the bee.
In this plot curl the brown brain
rills of rows of seeds almost ready
and seeds spent. I’m tired of it all
being about life and death. We are
navel-gazy, a couple of Uncle Vanyas
woe-ing and alas-ing our way through
middle life. I’ve dressed this salad
before, searching for people who Get It
while drops pock the pond and
the pincushion of the garden.
It is still Sunday after all this time;
this Sunday is as long as March.
We need to hear our hearts to feel alive,
sometimes in a bitter way, sometimes
a lovely way, hear them too fast
and too hard in order to feel alive.
This might be why people hurt so many
so often: to hear the hearts of the scared
makes hearts beat fast.
No, mice, you are not this way. No,
bees, you are not, dogs, pigs, hens.
But we are, and you are
at our mercy. You cannot forget
Hell for even a day, and so I cannot
An illegal immigrant,
an illiterate mother,
a hungry thirteen-year-old,
and a sadist
walk into a slaughterhouse.
It’s the first rung
of the American ladder,
says the first.
Wal-mart’s done hiring,
says the second.
School’s not working,
says the third,
and neither is Dad.
A place, says the last,
where I won’t be
The first sees the pig’s
leg dislocate as she’s hung:
He feels it in his own leg.
He feels her blood
down his neck.
The second feels the chick
tremble as she sears off
his beak with a hot
She feels it in her
The third did not know a cow
could make that sound,
the death sound he now knows
he will make one day.
The fourth slams
a chicken against a wall.
And again. The fourth sits
his weight on a calf too sick
to stand. Shoves his
finger up into a turkey
again and again.
The first has his arm caught
in a machine.
The second has a finger cut
off along a beak.
The third can’t leave
The fourth slams a chicken
against the wall. Grinds
his heel into a turkey.
Shoves his fist up
into a calf again
I’m cozy in your skin.
You were alive when
they took it, I saw
your muscle stripe
and glint and then
I saw you blink.
But I am rich
in your skin: rich
means worth, so
worth the caged
the electric anal
stun, the wrench
of skin away from
muscle, the tossed
body, and after all
this, the blink.
- Published: 18 April 2013
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