university of pittsburgh press

Sidebend World by Charles Harper Webb

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By Charles Rammelkamp

The title poem of Charles Harper Webb’s new collection is an apt metaphor for his poetic vision. “When I lean to my right, left arm stretched / over my head…” the poems begins: all sorts of fresh angles and relationships appear. “All cars / in the condo parking lot incline.” What else? “All waves / tilt as they roar toward shore….” Charles Harper Webb looks at the world from a unique perspective, reminding us of Emily Dickinson’s “Tell all the truth but tell it slant.” With refreshing, original metaphors and vivid language, Webb tilts our vision as well.  And his poems are often just so funny!

Take the poem, “Rain Stick,” sprung from the contemplation of one of those long hollow tubes filled with pebbles or beans, pins arranged in the inside of the tube so that when you upend it, it sounds like rain, and “you feel released,

as if the clenched world has relaxed, yielding
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to tears, orgasm, the laughing relief that soaks you
when the lab test comes back negative.
Its reprieve, resuscitation, the stopped breath
re-starting before a single brain cell dies,
the baby splooching out as the uterus sighs.
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 And you thought it was just a stocking stuffer or a tchotchke! So many of the poems in Sidebend World – and throughout Webb ‘s work generally – spring from these casual observations of mundane objects we might normally overlook – “Dominion of Blue” about the Galapagan booby made famous by Charles Darwin; “Box of Butterflies” with its curious observations (“Monarch: orange and black Majesty to which I bowed, seeing you / flap, frantic, on my killing jar’s drenched throne.”); “Bait Ball,” a poem shaped like an ornament on the page, “Not really round, but / suitable for bouncing.” He notes later in the poem: “London, to the / Luftwaffe, was a bait ball.” “The Woman on the Cover of Glamour Magazine” “so full of tigress-in-bed- / and tyrant-in-the-boardroom.”

Of course, “monsters” and “heroes” both get a slightly different look, too, in Webb’s sidebend world. In “Here Be Monsters,” he dismisses Cave Bear, Saber Tooth, Scylla, Charybdis,  Dracula. “Now monster means the flippered child, / the protoplasmic blob.” “Monster’s // a murderer with bulging, jailhouse arms. / A job-search agency. An energy drink.”  Monster is the disfigured prom queen burned up in an accident with a drunk driver, the one “every boy wanted, just last year / to kiss.”  The poem, “You Don’t Want to Meet the Ai-Uru” takes another sideways look at a monster, and “Fear Factor,” a satire on Reality TV, similarly describes a rescue gone wrong, despite the hero’s “class-president grin.”

Which indeed takes us to heroes. In “Meanwhile, back on Mt Olympus…” we get Webb’s amusing take on Achilles and the limping god Hephaestus who makes his shield. In Webb’s sidebend world they seem like ordinary people, if only because he elevates us all to the status of “hero.” “Hero Food” riffs on an instruction from Food Styling for Photographers that is its epigraph. For although we need heroes more than the Greeks did, what we get is “Kenny Carrot leading the Allied Vegetables / against the merciless axis of Tooth Decay,” as Webb’s imagination takes us laughing all the way through a Homeric epic of the staging of a photoshoot for canned corn.  (Take “canned corn” in both senses!)

But he can also be empathetic in his sardonic way, displaying a real tenderness for his son. In “Emergency” we see him and his wife overcome with despair as they have visions of the boy’s life “leaking away” to some mysterious disease. “Barred / from the spinal test for meningitis  – “Can’t have fathers / passing out!” – I roam the halls, dodging other dads’ dead eyes.” In “Nice Hat” he watches his son trying to master skateboarding, knowing the boy is “too thought-bound ever // to dissolve into pure speed. The jabs of “I might / fall,” “I’ll look bad,” “It’ll hurt,” punch / through his guard, bloodying his nose….” Yet he protects his son from the “mohawked thug” who calls him “Dickweed.” How protective we are when we see our loved ones are so vulnerable!

The best of Webb’s poems are the ones like “A Far Cry from Eli Whitney” and “Down the Bayou” that start us out in one place but by the time they’re over have taken us someplace totally unexpected. ”Hey, The Sopranos / are on TV!” he writes in “Down the Bayou.” “Five minutes in I’m calling guys // “Frankie the Frog” and “Lenny Lasagna,” / swigging vino, yelling “Fugedabout it”…” and only a stanza later, having caught a snatch of “She Loves You” on the stereo, he’s “tromping / through cold Liverpool rain, winking at birds, / all of whom I’ve shagged, and now call Luv.

Sidebend World is Charles Harper Webb’s twelfth collection of poetry. Any of them will take you inside, outside, sideways down with, as one critic puts it: “compassionate intelligence and an abiding wonder at the beautiful strangeness of the world.” Amen.

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You can find the book here: https://www.amazon.com/Sidebend-World-Poetry-Charles-Harper/dp/0822965615/ref=sr_1_3?s=books&ie=UTF8&qid=1538521669&sr=1-3

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Charles Rammelkamp is Prose Editor for Brick House Books in Baltimore, where he lives, and Reviews Editor for Adirondack Review. His most recent books include American Zeitgeist(Apprentice House) and a chapbook, Jack Tar’s Lady Parts ( Main Street Rag Press). Another poetry chapbook, Me and Sal Paradise, is forthcoming from Future Cycle Press.

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Talking Pillow by Angela Ball

Talking Pillow by Angela Ball
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Review by Lynette G. Esposito

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Talking Pillow by Angela Ball a professor of English at the Southern University of Mississippi, takes the poetry reader on a contemporary ride arounda block of modern subjects represented in both literal and figurative images.

Published by the University of Pittsburg Press in their Pitt Poetry Series, this 55-page soft cover tome offers reflections on universal themes such as love, loss, death hope and grief.

The poems are divided into three sections:  Lady of the House, FBI Story, and Bicycle Story. The sections are thematic. In Lady of the House, the focus of the poems is on relationships and the myriad subjects that make them.  In FBI Story the theme switches to discovery and realization using contemporary images that are both representative and logical. In the section, The Bicycle Story, the reader rides with the narrator through locales, timelines passing through remembrance and grief.

In the lead poem in the first section, Society for Ladies of the House. the situation is set in an ambulance ride to the hospital and the desire for the patient’s recovery The surprise ending is sweet but not sentimental  and shows how love transcends every day minutiae to survive and make one recognize how glorious love is.  After the trip to the hospital, the last lines show the true purpose:.

        …It parades the sky in its windows, admits
         the opera of passing sirens, the swerving, rocking
         ambulance with the brave young driver, determined
         to reach the hospital in time to save the patient
         to let him heal and return home, tentative
         but upright, to his own true love, the Lady of the House
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The poem I favor in FBI Story is the last poem in this section on page 37 entitled An Attempt.  Ball uses a dead bee..
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           For us, all that’s left
           is a dried bee, tilted
           onto one wing.
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The narrator says you cannot touch anything without water.  I like the perception of death during An Attempt, and the stillness represented by the bee caught trying but left unmoving.  It is a visible image in nature that asks the reader to understand action projected and action paused…probably without warning.  The last lines speak of the bee dust in the flower and the sad realization that the “we” of the poem will still not be any closer.

In The Bicycle Story, two poems attracted me: Lots of Swearing at the Fairgrounds, and Intercourse after Death Presents Special Difficulties.

          At the fairgrounds even children
          were full of curses, scrawled across mornings.
          What was denied, open pasture,
          the perfection of a stallion covering its mate.
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The comment on confined spaces obscuring the beauty of nature is subtle but clear.

The lines that struck me in Intercourse After Death Presents Special Difficulties, beside the title, involve a congeal visit to the after life. Ball handles the desire without sentimentality but with intensity and possibility. .

      Nights I ingest the pill
        that lets me seem awake while in motion
        at home and at work.  I note
        today’s horoscope
       “a far-fetched hope is realized.”.  
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For those who have lost a lover or a loved one, Ball suggest that there is shame in the need to touch and be touched by the lost one and how the narrator of the poem deals with the reality and perception

The book is a pleasure in its direct simplicity as well as its subtlety.

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You can find the book here:

https://www.amazon.com/Talking-Pillow-Pitt-Poetry-Angela/dp/0822965151/ref=asap_bc?ie=UTF8

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Lynette G. Esposito has been an Adjunct Professor at Rowan University,  Burlington County and Camden County Colleges. She has taught creative writing and conducted workshops in New Jersey and Pennsylvania.  Mrs. Esposito holds a BA in English from the University of Illinois and an MA in Creative Writing and English Literature from Rutgers University.  Her articles have appeared in the national publication, Teaching for Success; regionally in South Jersey Magazine, SJ Magazine. Delaware Valley Magazine, and her essays have appeared in Reader’s Digest and The Philadelphia Inquirer. Her poetry has appeared in US1, SRN Review, The Fox Chase Review and other literary magazines. She has critiqued poetry for local and regional writer’s conferences and served as a panelist and speaker at local and national writer’s conferences.  She lives with her husband, Attilio, in Mount Laurel, NJ.

Darwin’s Mother by Sarah Rose Nordgren

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By Lynette G. Esposito

The soft cover volume of Darwin’s Mother by Sarah Rose Nordgren published by Pittsburg Press is a delight. It is so good, even the acknowledgements are interesting.

The book is divided into three sections: Origin of Species, Material, and A Moral Animal. I have favorites in each section. In the first section, my favorite is Mitochondrial Eve on page 9. The first two stanzas set up the poem and the last single line closes it. 

                                     Please go down and thank her
                                      under the arched branches
                                      where she sits on her heels

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                                      arranging a circle of leaves
                                      for a good bed.  And on the inside
                                      of her skin thank the mosaic.

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The seven-stanza  poem is both visual and logical. The structure is regular until the final stanza which stands alone as a single line: always with the door open.  The reader is spoken to in direct address and then is presented with a picture of our original Eve as she puts everything together from the inside out while resting in nature and at the same time being part of nature.

In the second section, Material, my favorite is on pages 28 and 29 entitled Reservoir.  The poem begins It is the nature of data,,,, The poem progresses to discuss

this dry subject in fresh and wonderful images of “things.” Norgren relates data to water and the gathering of it.  In stanza three and four, she presents how this gathering works:

                                        It takes a staff of thousands
                                        traveling on foot with tin buckets
                                        under their arms to collect                                        
                                        even a fraction of it, empting it all
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                                        into the reservoir we’re building
                                        for this very purpose.  

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She uses the image of water as data through the rest of the poem discussing the uses of information and the broad expanse of it, and ends the poem in two lines: as they stare and say, My God how beautiful. One sees in the poem the digital blue lakes and not the dry numbers of information we observe in landlocked pages. The poem transforms informational data into a lovely useable waterscape.

In A Moral Animal, Nordgren presents poetry with subjects including The Kiss, Moral Animal, Achilles and Mary at the Museum and Simulation. My favorite in this section is

Movie Night on page 54. The title suggests this is a fun poem. If you think watching a horror movie on an Easter Sunday is fun, then add giving birth and trying to stuff the baby back in as a leisure activity and you have a rather twisted vision of what to in your spare time.

The one stanza poem ends with the lines:.

                                      …This time
                                      you play the distant voice while I
                                      heave myself up, heave myself up
                                      from the bitter lake.     

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As in her other poems,  Nordgren creates not only visuals, but contrasting perceptions in how reality can affect us and in this poem how an old horror movie affects our Sunday afternoons.

The book feels honest, simple and complex as it explores the exterior and interior of the author’s view of the human condition in a timeless exposure of how the past, present and future intermix.

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The book is available from The University of Pittsburgh Press at  www.upress,pitt.edu

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Lynette G. Esposito has been an Adjunct Professor at Rowan University,  Burlington County and Camden County Colleges. She has taught creative writing and conducted workshops in New Jersey and Pennsylvania.  Mrs. Esposito holds a BA in English from the University of Illinois and an MA in Creative Writing and English Literature from Rutgers University.  Her articles have appeared in the national publication, Teaching for Success; regionally in South Jersey Magazine, SJ Magazine. Delaware Valley Magazine, and her essays have appeared in Reader’s Digest and The Philadelphia Inquirer. Her poetry has appeared in US1, SRN Review, The Fox Chase Review and other literary magazines. She has critiqued poetry for local and regional writer’s conferences and served as a panelist and speaker at local and national writer’s conferences.  She lives with her husband, Attilio, in Mount Laurel, NJ.

 

Music For A Wedding by Lauren Clark

music

By Lynette G. Esposito

Lauren Clark’s Music for a Wedding published by the University of Pittsburgh Press presents 82 pages of reminiscent poetry with visual images and interpretations of every day occurrences and locations..

Vijay Seshardi, Judge says Clark’s poems take the reader into “a relationship with the invisible and the ineffable, bringing image and language (as if by magic) to the page and to the reader.” Take for example on page one in an untitled poem:

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       There is a sorrow being outside your body
         even when I am in the places where it has been.
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This generalization brings this sorrow to the heart my naming a place, the kitchen, in the next stanza and the bedroom thereafter where the narrator measures her lover with the palm of her hand so that when he is gone, she can remake him.  He does not awaken.

In Aubade on page 32, she takes the reader to the bathroom and we all know what goes on in there.  Yet, she graphically shows the act of recreation with our panties down and in the washing of hands…reproducing the life it has known.  She visualizes a common act with judgment and appraisal about how life works.

On page 63, the narrator takes us into the bathroom again in the poem Afterfeast.

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         There is no absolute aloneness on this island
         and so it is for me to understand there is none
         on any island, and so it is or me
         in the white bathroom light.
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It is not the bathroom but the commonness of the room where there should be privacy for all things and where one should be alone.  As presented, the reader finds the illumination of the white bathroom light and the realization about interpreting absolute aloneness.

She ends this poetry tome with Illinois in Spring, outside and thinking of endings.

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            ….The place that is big enough to hold every
            absence. That things grow here, pale and small from enormous land,

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            inspires abject panic. The wonder of watching a flying bird land
            on water.  The end of the line will always give you that feeling.
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The natural elements of air and water and reaching a conclusion for this narrator is panic. A reader cannot help but react to this image because it happens so often and to so many beside lake, and rivers and oceans.

Clark is an effective writer juxtaposing the common with the uncommon and twisting the images to fit a fluid form. She leaves the window open for the lace curtains to fiddle in the breeze to form a  shadowed pattern on the mind of the reader. This is a good read for lovers of poetry.

Lauren Clark holds a B.A. in classics from Oberlin College and an MFA in poetry from the University of Michigan.  Music for a Wedding is the winner of the 2016 Donald Hall Prize for Poetry.

It is available at www.upress.pitt.edu

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Lynette G. Esposito has been an Adjunct Professor at Rowan University,  Burlington County and Camden County Colleges. She has taught creative writing and conducted workshops in New Jersey and Pennsylvania.  Mrs. Esposito holds a BA in English from the University of Illinois and an MA in Creative Writing and English Literature from Rutgers University.  Her articles have appeared in the national publication, Teaching for Success; regionally in South Jersey Magazine, SJ Magazine. Delaware Valley Magazine, and her essays have appeared in Reader’s Digest and The Philadelphia Inquirer. Her poetry has appeared in US1, SRN Review, The Fox Chase Review and other literary magazines. She has critiqued poetry for local and regional writer’s conferences and served as a panelist and speaker at local and national writer’s conferences.  She lives with her husband, Attilio, in Mount Laurel, NJ.

Ornaments by David Daniel

ornaments

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By Lynette  G. Esposito

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Ornaments, by David Daniel, is a great read for lovers of poetry.  Divided into four parts, the sixty-four page volume of poetry shows insights into conversations with the self and how ones observations affect not only the narrator, but also the space around him and his readers.

Daniel uses common language and images to portray how everyday situations become representative of life’s struggles.  For example, Daniels in his poem The Naturalist says:

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          In nature, what is beautiful is poisonous,

          And if it is beautiful and easy to catch, it is likely deadly:

          This fact supported by naturalists worldwide.

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He then relates this to: prophets are sometimes beautiful and who are often blind and predict deadly futures.   He suggests no one is hurt by poetry.  He juxtaposes the concepts of the natural and unnatural with the effects they produce.  The narrator in this poem speaks of beheading poetry and drinking the poison of the moon. He catches a snake which bites him before it pours itself into its hole. The reader is left at the port of entry where language encounters the surprise of multi snake bites and escapes.

 In his poem The Mouse’s Nest, the narrator complains Madness, you know, creeps in– or you stumble on it.  The narrator’s definition of madness and his technique of using direct address to the reader set an unnerving scene.  The narrator discovers a mouse’s nest in an old trunk by the sea and the logical mind can see reality in an unreality:

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          Just who’s found the nest and when?  “The mirror of nature, you say,

          Just look at yourself.”  And I do.  A storm had washed in

          A wooden chest made to store what you need by the sea.

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The image of the self looking into the sea chest and back at itself over the discovery of a nest with a dead mouse and her babies clinging to her demonstrates how cruel nature can be in preserving evidence of once living creatures.  It feels like madness in the preservation of the dead creature entombed in a place it considered safe.

 The soft cover book released by the University of Pittsburgh Press, offers a clear vision into what poetry is and what it is supposed to be.  This book is well worth reading more than once.

 Daniel is the author of Seven-Star Bird which won the Levis Reading Prize given by Virginia Commonwealth University.  He is the editor of Ploughshares and founded WAMAFEST (The Words and Music Festival) which brings together many celebrated artists such as Bruce Springsteen with Robert Pinsky and Roseanne Cash with C.D. Wright.  Daniel is a member of the Bennington Writers Seminars.  He teaches at Farleigh Dickinson University.  He is a native of Danville, Kentucky and currently lives in Cambridge, Massachusetts.

The book is available from University of Pittsburg Press and in e-book format.

https://www.amazon.com/Ornaments-Pitt-Poetry-David-Daniel/dp/0822965186

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Lynette G. Esposito has been an Adjunct Professor at Rowan University,  Burlington County and Camden County Colleges. She has taught creative writing and conducted workshops in New Jersey and Pennsylvania.  Mrs. Esposito holds a BA in English from the University of Illinois and an MA in Creative Writing and English Literature from Rutgers University.  Her articles have appeared in the national publication, Teaching for Success; regionally in South Jersey Magazine, SJ Magazine. Delaware Valley Magazine, and her essays have appeared in Reader’s Digest and The Philadelphia Inquirer. Her poetry has appeared in US1, SRN Review, The Fox Chase Review and other literary magazines. She has critiqued poetry for local and regional writer’s conferences and served as a panelist and speaker at local and national writer’s conferences.  She lives with her husband, Attilio, in Mount Laurel, NJ.

Albatross by Dore Kiesselbach

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By g emil reutter
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On the surface there is a cool detachment by this poet, yet as one reads through the collection there is a strong undercurrent of emotion, of trauma, heartbreak and reality. Kiesselbach has given us a collection of poetry that requires more than one read, not for the ability to understand, but to explore the many layers, to explore the intensity of Kiesselbach’s poetry.
In the poem, Bob, Kiesselbach writes of a time when he hung out in a 7-11 where Bob would let him work from time to time. He sets the tone in the opening.
 
Bob
was what his 7-11 nametag said. Part of his head
was missing. Tumor or crash, they excised
skull and left a steel plate, thinner than bone,
behind. It made a dent where, if his
head were a hand, the fist would be.
When he couldn’t find the right word,
he’d make a tapping motion there.
 
Although he writes of events at the store, working the register, of going home to a grim family, of never stealing a cent, although he did take a Hustler, Bob had become his family and as you read the poem you continue to go to the opening and see Bob tapping the steel plate watching the boy work in the store.
 
In the section titled, Worn, Kiesselbach revisits 9-11 as an eyewitness to events. In the poem, PlumeHe writes:
 
Close upon a long hiccup in the light comes
clockwise torsion incident to the sound
of a huge cupped hand slapping water.
Concussion’s shiver shuffles your guts
On its way to Tim’s office and parts
northeast.
 
And at the end:
 
In a turbulent flow of faces
you recognize one, late to work,
not among the early birds lying
uncharacteristically down on the
job three blocks away. What’s going
on? It’s never been so hard to say.
 
From the poem, Blood:
 
Many thousands
headed to Manhattan
hadn’t gone, like
a colony of seabirds
on a cliff in a gale
were simply
staying put,
thoughts of
feeding eclipsed
for the day.
 
An equally intense section of the collection is, Cut Short. An excellent example is the poem Crucifixion.
 
One minute he’s looking at you, full-size, in anguish.
and the next he’s a stricken Harryhausen figurine.
Someone with cooler blood would be wishing
for a compendium of diseases but you’re
pressed too personally into the event
to separate symptoms from suffering.
If it can be thought to do so, horror
flows like gas from an unlit oven,
well past the point where it makes
any sense at all to strike a match.
When he says there’s this awful
pounding in my head no one has
the heart to tell him it’s not in your head.
 
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g emil reutter is a writer of poems and stories. You can find him here:About g emil reutter
 

An Interview with Bradley D. Snow – Living With Lead- An Environmental History of Idaho’s Coeur D’Alenes, 1885-2011

 

Living with Lead

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  •  g emil reutter

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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

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Bradley D. Snow

The Interview

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.”

Bunker Hill blast furnace and refining buildings

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.

Bunker Hill Smelter

Bunker Hill

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.

Lead_blast_furnace_at_Bunker_Hill_Smelter

Bunker Hill Lead Blast-Furnace

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.

Bunker Hill Stacks Demolished

Demolition of Bunker Hill – Courtesy of Newsweek

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.

g emil reutter is a writer of poems and stories. You can find him here:About g emil reutter