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Living with Lead by Bradley D. Snow is a compelling, fact filled book concerning the environmental history of the Coeur d’Alenes Valley in the state of Idaho. Bradley brings us to the initial finding of precious metals, quite by accident by a wayward donkey to corporate America’s mining of lead and silver, production of zinc and of construction of smelters and blast furnaces that dominated and destroyed the landscape of the Couer d’Alenes, to the rebirth of the environment when the famous Bunker Hill facility was finally torn down. The release of Living With Lead is timely as present day demands of deregulation of EPA rules and regulations are in open debate. The question of relaxed rules bringing back blue collar jobs is also in question as corporations only have allegiance to themselves. Living With Lead is a necessary read for those who value the environment and for those who desire to relax regulations for it is good to know why these regulations came into place and what their impact on the lives of people have been. You can find the book here: BookDetails
GER: How long did it take from the accidental discovery of lead and silver in the Couer d’Alenes to the decline of the environment?
BDS: The galena (lead-silver) deposits were discovered in September of 1885 and area residents were reporting significant damage to their crops and livestock from mine tailings that washed down the South Fork of the Coeur d’Alene River and the main stem of the Coeur d’Alene River by the late 1890s. Downstream farmers also reported that by 1898 the South Fork, which formerly had supported healthy stocks of trout, had seen its fish populations “destroyed.”
GER: In its prime how many people were employed at Bunker Hill and the mines located in the Couer d’Alenes?
BDS: At its peak Bunker Hill employed 3,151 people. I’m not sure how exactly how many were employed in Shoshone County’s many other mines, but in 1981, just before the closure of Bunker Hill, 4,200 people were employed by the mining industry in the county. As 1981 was far from the industry’s zenith in Shoshone County, my guess is that at its peak (ca. 1957) close to 5,000 people were employed by the mining industry in the Coeur d’Alenes
GER: What was the output of the Bunker Hill facility?
BDS: Not sure I quite understand the question. Do you mean output over its history, peak annual output, or something else? In 1981, Bunker Hill’s production represented twenty percent of the national total for silver and seventeen percent for lead. Bunker’s lead mine and its zinc mine were the largest in the Coeur d’Alenes, an area that between 1885 and 1997 yielded eighteen percent of the nation’s silver, seventeen percent of its zinc and six percent of its lead. For that period, the Coeur d’Alene Mining District ranked first in the nation in silver production, third in lead and third in zinc.
GER: Could you describe the Bunker Hill facility and the land mass it occupied?
BDS: Bunker Hill owned and operated much of the land in and around the towns of Kellogg and Smelterville, Idaho, where the bulk of its plant and equipment were housed. This included the Bunker Hill Mine, a major producer of lead and silver, a large lead smelter and a large zinc refinery (each with a ‘tall stack’ after 1977), tailings ponds, and a corporate office in Kellogg. As aspects of its effort to purchase pollution easements or simply the right to pollute lands it owned, Bunker Hill also owned (or leased) tens of thousands of acres of former farmland adjacent to the South Fork and the Coeur d’Alene River. It also purchased “smoke easements” for thousands of acres of Shoshone County land likely to be damaged by its lead and zinc plants’ effluent. In addition, at various times in its history the company owned or leased thousands of acres of area forest lands for its logging operations. The Star Mine, which Bunker co-owned with the Hecla Mining Company, lay within the District but several miles from Kellogg and Smelterville.
GER: Briefly describe the damage inflicted on the waterways and landscapes of Couer d’Alenes by the Bunker Hill facility?
BDS: By the early 1930s, if not earlier, the South Fork of the Coeur d’Alene River had become essentially a “lifeless river,” devoid of organic life. Below it, the Coeur d’Alene River was not in much better shape. Significant fish populations could not be found in the stream until it had emptied into a large body of water, Lake Coeur d’Alene, and mine tailings were diluted by a large quantity of water. Lead sulphate (dissolved lead) appears to have been a principal culprit in the diminution of the streams’ capacities to support life. Since the installation of modern tailings impoundment facilities by Bunker Hill and the other major mining companies in the late 1960s and early 1970s in response to federal clean water mandates, water quality in the watershed has seen marked improvement. Healthy fish populations now can be found on the Coeur d’Alene River and on parts of the South Fork. Heavy metals in and around the lateral lakes along the lower Coeur d’Alene River also have been significantly cleaned up by the EPA and no longer kill as many geese and ducks as they formerly did. The Bunker Hill smelter and zinc plant rained down many, many tons of lead, sulphur dioxide and other toxins on the landscape of the Coeur d’Alenes over the decades. In August of 1974, following Bunker’s decision to run its smelter at full bore for months without a working pollution control system, the children of Kellogg and Smelterville registered some of the highest blood lead levels ever recorded. After the shutdown of both plants in early 1982, the declaration of the area as a federal Superfund site, and years of household yard cleanups (in which yard dirt down to four feet in depth was removed by the EPA), children’s blood lead levels in the area dropped to below the national average by the early 2000s.
GER: Could you describe Ulrich Beck’s theorization of two discrete stages of modernity and how it related to Bunker Hill and the Couer d’Alenes?
BDS: Beck holds that under the stage he calls ‘classical industrial society,’ the risks produced by industry (to health, quality of life, etc.), are essentially discounted by people as ‘the price of progress.’ In a later stage, which he dubs ‘advanced modernity,’ people begin to reject the risks as too great to be discounted and to demand that industry do a better job of minimizing them, for example by demanding safer workplaces, less industrial pollution, etc. In the Coeur d’Alenes, the watershed decade when both the larger society (i.e., the U.S., as represented by new federal environmental laws and agencies such as the EPA) and some locals began to push the area’s industrial chieftains into ‘advanced modernity.’
GER: How did the production of lead and zinc effect the workers at Bunker Hill and the residents of Kellogg?
BDS: Workers at the zinc, and to an even greater extent the lead, plant, suffered from a variety of maladies, primarily due to excessive amounts of airborne lead in the workplace. NIOSH studies have shown that Bunker Hill’s lead smelter workers have suffered from heightened death rates from chronic renal disease and renal cancer, both of which are associated with lead exposure, and stroke. A large cohort of children who were exposed to the area’s stratospheric rates of lead in 1973-’74, studied twenty years later as adults, were found to be significantly more likely than the median U.S. population to suffer from a variety of health problem. These included high blood pressure, infertility, sleep disorders, memory loss, trouble concentrating, learning disabilities, anemia, and depression.
GER: What was the environmental/economic impact of the destruction of Bunker Hill on the town of Kellogg and related communities?
BDS: Economically it was devastating. The town suffered the loss of its economic base and consequently lost a major portion of its population and tax base. Kellogg really has never recovered, although it has tried to reinvent itself as a ‘Bavarian Ski Village.’ Environmentally, the area has improved significantly since 1982, and, thanks to the EPA’s cleanup efforts, is probably the cleanest and most healthful it’s been since the early part of the 20th Century.
GER: Do you believe the current political environment calling for reductions in EPA rules and regulations will bring back smelters, blast furnaces and steel mills to the United States or will they remain in poorer countries without regulation?
BDS: The latter. It’s still a lot more expensive to do that kind of industry in the U.S. than it is in less-developed countries, and even if current efforts to repeal federal environmental regulations are successful, there still will be far more such regulation here than in, let’s say, China.
GER: Has the United States reached the point that residents will put a higher value on their living environment as opposed to sacrificing it for good paying blue collar jobs?
BDS: I think there are places where folks might be willing to sacrifice the environment to ‘bring back good paying jobs,’ or to retain them – a good number of people in West Virginia appear to support mountaintop-removal coal mining for example – but I think it’s extremely difficult to bring those jobs back once they’ve been lost to other countries. In addition, there are some things U.S. communities just don’t seem to be willing to put up with anymore, for example the level of pollution associated with lead smelting.
GER: Do you believe corporations place a higher value on profits rather than allegiance to communities and nations they once operated in?
BDS: As a rule, yes. For-profit corporations generally operate in an environment of global competition and are legally bound to maximize profits for their shareholders. Loyalty to community, while perhaps a value to corporate executives, cannot compete with the mandate to maintain competitiveness and maximize profits.
GER: Many residents born in the United States after 1995 have no idea of the high rate of pollution that plants such as Bunker Hill inflicted on the living and working environment of the areas they once operated in. Living With Lead is a timely release with the calls for deregulation. What impact do you hope for with this book?
BDS: I hope it will encourage readers to think about the level of worker health and environmental tradeoffs that not so long ago were commonplace in the U.S., how and why that has changed, and what kind of world we want to live in going forward.
You can find the book here: BookDetails
Bradley D. Snow is assistant teaching professor of history at Montana State University.
Lyn Lifshin has published over 130 books and chapbooks including 3 from Black Sparrow Press: Cold Comfort, Before It’s Light and Another Woman Who Looks Like Me. Before Secretariat: The Red Freak, The Miracle, Lifshin published her prize winning book about the short lived beautiful race horse Ruffian, The Licorice Daughter: My Year With Ruffian and Barbaro: Beyond Brokenness. Recent books include Ballroom, All the Poets Who Have Touched Me, Living and Dead. All True, Especially The Lies, Light At the End: The Jesus Poems, Katrina, Mirrors, Persphone, Lost In The Fog, Knife Edge & Absinthe: The Tango Poems . NYQ books published A Girl Goes into The Woods. Also just out: For the Roses poems after Joni Mitchell and Hitchcock Hotel from Danse Macabre. Secretariat: The Red Freak, The Miracle. And Tangled as the Alphabet,– The Istanbul Poems from NightBallet Press Just released as well Malala, the dvd of Lyn Lifshin: Not Made of Glass. The Marilyn Poems was just released from Rubber Boots Press. An update to her Gale Research Autobiography is out: Lips, Blues, Blue Lace: On The Outside. Also just out is a dvd of the documentary film about her: Lyn Lifshin: Not Made Of Glass. Just out: Femme Eterna and Moving Through Stained Glass: the Maple Poems. Forthcoming: Degas Little Dancer and Winter Poems from Kind of a Hurricane Press, Paintings and Poems, from Tangerine press (just out) and The Silk Road from Night Ballet, alivelikealoadedgun from Transcendent Zero Press Just Out and forthcoming Refugees http://www.lynlifshin.com/
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GER: What brought you to poetry and who were your inspirations?
LL: As a child I was read to a lot and I remember one of my favorite books was the collection of poetry, NOW WE ARE SIX, with its poetry of Tattoo the Cat, Alexander the beetle his grandmother let out, and Anne, Anne playing in the willows. I still have that book. When I was about 3, driving from Barre, VT to Middlebury, VT I am told I said “it looks like the trees are dancing.” My mother, who named me Rosalyn Diane, a name she thought would be appropriate for an actress, something I think she always wanted to be herself, sighed, “well then maybe she will be a poet.”
In elementary school, because I read and wrote well, I skipped from first to third grade. There, I had an amazing teacher, Mrs. Flag. Each morning she brought in something—a branch of apple blossoms, colored stones, prints of famous paintings and asked us to write about them. I still have those blue books with hand written poems about apple blossoms, water fowl, snow in April. One day I copied a poem of Blake’s and told my mother I had written it. Since Middlebury was a small town it wasn’t unusual that my mother ran into my teacher and told her what an inspiration she’d been—how I had written a poem with words in it she didn’t even know I knew. By Monday I had to write my poem with those particular words in them: rill, descending, nigh.
In college I never felt I could write enough so didn’t take any writing courses. But I did write a few poems over summer. Robert Frost, who spent the summer in Ripton, VT, often wandered around Middlebury in baggy green pants carrying a bag of strawberries. Like my father, he was a taciturn, quiet man and would only let my father, who worked in my uncle’s department store, wait on him. My father one time showed him one of my poems and Frost wrote on it. “wonderful images—bring me some more poems.” By the time I had any more poems, Frost was dead. In my first year of college I fell in love with Federico Garcia Lorca and in graduate school, Dylan Thomas. And later Sylvia Plath and Anne Sexton and Maxine Kumin.
GER: You never attended a workshop yet you have taught numerous workshops. What value do you place in workshops?
LL: For so many writers who start writing on their own, maybe a workshop is a great place to try out poems and stories, meet other writers, start a magazine. At times I think these workshops become so insulated they only publish their own poems but I suppose there are good things coming out of them. When I started writing, I wouldn’t have any idea of where to even look for a writing workshop.
GER: Do you use a particular formula in creating your poems?
LL: Not really. I did an article for Writers Digest about the many way I’ve started poems and there are so many. I like assignments: people looking for poems on a certain subject. That often triggers a who series of poems on that subject. A forthcoming book, THE SILK ROAD came from a request for poems about silk and spices. Requests for poems on certain subjects often turn into whole books: poems about Jesus, (JESUS ALIVE AND IN THE FLESH) (poems about dick for a day, mother and daughter poems, (TANGLED VINES) and (THE DAUGHTER I DON’T HAVE.) Marilyn Monroe (MARILYN MONROE) political poems (BLUE TATTOO), Barbie poems (BARBIE), Malala (MALALA). So often when I am asked for a poem on a subject it seems I couldn’t stop and wrote not one or two poems but a series. FOR THE ROSES came from a request for poems about Joni Mitchell. Sadly the week the book was released, the editor-publisher became sick and died –I had received only about ten copies of the book and no one could find the others or discover the key to printing more copies—so the few that are out are truly collectors’ copies. ) I paid to have a group reprinted but sadly the book didn’t get the attention it should had though I think it is still on Amazon and I have a few copies; an Obama file came from two requests for two books on Obama that came out just around his election. I never submitted that file anywhere else.
GER: Tell us about your latest release, Little Dancer–The Degas Poems.
LL: I’d always loved ballet- in Middlebury there was not much of a chance to take classes. For a year or two a lovely, exotic dancer from Paris, Mrs. Berge—later we learned she was Mrs. Berger who had come to escape the Holocaust. I was a chubby 8 year old but I loved the classes and she gave me a tiara and costume she wore in the Metropolitan Opera that I still have and cherish. Though I still take ballet barre, now my passion is ballroom and Argentine tango. The original statue of the little dance is in the National Gallery in Washington DC and I wrote the poems after seeing a play based on Degas and the little dancer.
GER: In 2014 Femme Eterna was released followed by #AliveLikeALoadedGun in 2016. Could you share with us your thoughts on these books?
LL: Classical images and themes haven’t been a mainstay of my work. But an artist wanted to collaborate on a project for THE WOMEN’S MUSEUM. She had an idea of showing women thru the ages and how they each had some area of power. We planned to begin with the earliest well known women and work up to the present. We each picked out a number of women in myth and history and she began working on paintings and I worked on poems. I started with Enheduanna because I knew nothing about her. It was fun. I loved the fact that she was not only the first woman who signed her name to what she had written but she was also a poet. I loved reading about the Euphrates, imagining her shiny dark lips as she wrote on her lapis lazuli tablet. I was impressed, imagining the patience and time it must have taken to write with a stylus and in cuneiform. When I was in Turkey, I saw a stylus of similar cuneiforms and was even more amazed at Enheduanna’s accomplishments. It was easy to identify with Scheherazade, another story teller, who imagination kept her alive. I learned so much about Nefertiti’s life, her power, her heart breaks. It was very different for me to focus on the myths and history of these special women. The project my artist friend and I were working on never happened. More recently we talked about resurrecting a project that would combine our poetic and artistic works.
ALIVELIKEALOADEDGUN came together in a rather traditional way. The editor-producer wrote me and asked if I’d be interested in doing a book. I sent him several, (many—I probably drowned him in files) of new poems and he made the selection.
GER: Over 135 of your books have been published and after decades of writing you remain prolific. To what do you attribute the continued flow of creativity?
LL: I’m really not sure. In the cabinet over my desk are about 59 hand written notebooks—spiral notebooks with about 70 pages each of poems so if I never write another poem, I will have more than enough to type up for years!. I am still writing. Two of my poems that I felt were strong were just accepted by a magazine that felt they were some of the strongest I’ve written.
For a while I was fascinated with horse racing and three of my strongest books came from that subject: THE LICORICE DAUGHTER: A YEAR WITH RUFFIAN; BARBARO: UNBROKEN; SECRETARIAT:THE RED FREAK, THE MIRACLE. Before that, many of the poems were family poems, poems about people. My three Black sparrow books have many poems about family: COLD COMFORT, BEFORE IT’S LIGHT and ANOTHER WOMAN WHO LOOKS LIKE ME. And I did a series of books about places: AUDDLEY END, THE OLD HOUSE ON THE CROTON, SHAKER HOUSE POEMS, PLYMOUTH WOMEN, THE OLD HOUSES, PLYMOUTH. I’ve also done many nature themed books NUTLEY POND and MOVING THRU STAINED GLASS—THE MAPLE POEMS.
GER: How has the poetry scene changed since you first came on the scene?
LL: In so many way. The many advanced degrees in poetry at many schools has created little enclaves or cliques of poets. Submission has changed with Submittable being the main way of sending poems. In early anthologies RISING TIDES and PSYCHE:THE POETRIC FEMININE –anthologies that go from Emily Dickinson to the present include my work while there are only about 5 other contemporary poets. But I’ve never won a Push Cart. Or had a poem on Garrison Keillor’s daily poem program.
GER: So I hear you like to tango. Do you find any similarities between the art of the dance and the art of words?
LL: I suppose there are—tango never came as easily as poetry but I’ve loved it as much. On my web site there is a tango dance I’ve done after only half a year of classes. But I wish I did more. I do have a book of tango poems; (all written before I did any tango dancing) KNIFE EDGE & ABSINTH:THE TANGO POEMS. And BALLROOM, another of my favorites, is also from the press where the editor died—I do have some copies and I hope Amazon does too. It all is rather ephemeral isn’t it? I do have a movie LYN LIFSHIN: NOT MADE OF GLASS and I used to tape all my poems only to realize my tape recorder wasn’t very good. But there are some readings of poems on my web site http://www.lynlifshin.com and a reading and interview at the Library of Congress and is on my web site.
To learn more about Lynn Lifshin please visit her at: http://www.lynlifshin.com/
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