April 13th, 2013 by Gary Smith
Kind is a new book of poetry by Gretchen Primack, who co-authored The Lucky Ones with Jenny Brown, released last year. Kind is filled with thoughtful, poignant and touching poems about how we treat and mistreat animals. Gretchen’s poetry is straightforward, and makes one think about their role in either oppressing or advocating for nonhumans.
Though I am generally not a fan of poetry, Gretchen’s poems touched me deeply. I can’t recommend Kind enough. Make sure you pick up a copy for yourself or someone who is ready to be inspired to make great change. You can pick up a copy of the book here: http://gretchenprimack.com/books
Before we get to the interview, Gretchen was ‘kind’ enough to allow me to reprint one of my favorite poems from the book.
If you permit
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
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?
How did you come up with the title “Kind” for the book?
This is a book about kindness—our inattention to it, our consciousness of it. But it’s also a book about kinds, the distinctions—artificial ones—we make between this kind of animal and that: humans versus all others, dogs versus pigs, and so on. That double meaning appealed to me as a title right away; this was the easiest-to-title work I’ve ever done!
Animals have always found their way into poetry and literature. Most of the time, they are not being advocated for. Why did you choose to use poetry as a way of advocating for nonhuman animals?
I think we all respond to different media when it comes to making change. Someone might come to a different consciousness through watching a documentary, someone else through reading a pamphlet, someone else through visual art. Poetry has also been a vehicle for change. Think of Adrienne Rich’s work, or Audre Lorde’s, or Wilfred Owen’s excoriations of World War I. Why not also lend poetic voice to the struggle of nonhuman animals? Then there’s simply this: Poetry is the medium I gravitate towards. I’ve written essays and articles, and I co-wrote Jenny Brown’s memoir The Lucky Ones: My Passionate Fight for Farmed Animals, and I love those projects. But when it comes to pure literary expression, my first choice is poetry.
Has your poetry always addressed animal exploitation or is this a new avenue for you?
I worked on this book on and off for about five years, but before that I didn’t touch the subject. I had a turning point when I found myself in a month-long artist residency with a group of people who felt nothing for nonhuman animals. The alienation propelled me to begin Kind—so I guess there was an upside to that loneliness and frustration.
What do you hope readers will take away from “Kind?”
I’d like the book to provide different things for different readers. For those already involved in animal advocacy, I’d like it to provide recognition, consolation, and a feeling that you’re not alone. For those who have flirted with making change but haven’t quite gotten there, I’d like to provide inspiration to take next steps. For those who are sensitive to issues of social justice but haven’t considered animal issues, I’d like the book to start them in that direction. And for all readers, I’d like the book to do what good poetry should do: Make us think about the possibilities of language, of art, of taking a step back and looking at the world a different way. And I’d like it to be a pleasure to read!
When did you go vegan and how did you come to that decision?
I went vegetarian when I was thirteen: I was an animal lover, so how could I eat animals? It was pretty simple even though I didn’t know other vegetarians. But my eyes weren’t opened to the issues inherent to dairy and eggs and the like until much later—I was in my 30s. I’d moved to the Hudson Valley and was introduced to the work of farm animal sanctuaries and the vegans involved with them. Well, that was it. My mind was blown.
As an artist, you must have to live with your heart open. How do you deal with all of the cruelty and suffering against animals and how do you heal yourself?
The activism and the art soothe me in the midst of the horrors. I feel worst when I’m not doing anything about it, so it feels good to roll my sleeves up. Still, I make sure to lead a full, indulgent life and take care of myself. Delicious meals, travel, mindless entertainment, crass humor, lots of snuggle time with rescued animals, and high-quality time with fabulous humans—like my husband, Gus—keep me sane.
If you’re in the New York City area, come hear her read from Kind at the Jivamukti Studio on April 28 and Kleinert/James Gallery on May 11.