Lenore Kandel: Beat poet whose 'The Love Book' fell victim to one of San Francisco's longest ever court cases

Much like Leonora Carrington was to the Surrealist movement, the visionary poet and counter-culture activist Lenore Kandel was a peer and a participant, not a moll, muse or girlfriend. She helped to set the bar higher, bridged the Beat and hippie eras, was a presence in Kerouac's Big Sur and had a cameo in Kenneth Anger's film Invocation of My Demon Brother. Yet in spite of Kandel's influence and cause célèbre status, her poetry was lost for decades.

"Poetry is never compromise," she declared in the introduction to Word Alchemy (1967). "It is the manifestation/translation of a vision, an illumination, an experience..." She proved that with The Love Book (1966). It contained four poems and ran to eight pages. This "holy erotica" – one poem was called "To Fuck with Love" – was bound to get the goat of the moral majority. While followers of US literature and free speech pontificate about the obscenity trials of William Burroughs' Naked Lunch, Michael McClure's The Beard and Allen Ginsberg's Howl, Kandel's brush with San Francisco's city fathers has been unfairly sidelined.

In November 1966 police raided the City Lights Bookstore and the Psychedelic Shop. They impounded her book on the grounds that it "excited lewd thoughts". For the future governor of California, Ronald Reagan, running on a ticket about cleaning up society, Kandel's book was a stick with which to beat the Bay Area's burgeoning hippie scene. The bust led to one of the city's longest-running court cases, going on appeal to the California Supreme Court, which upheld the obscenity ruling. In The San Francisco Poetry Renaissance, 1955-1960 (1991) Warren French called it the city police's "last highly publicized case of attempted censorship". A federal court finally overturned the prosecution in 1974. The Love Book was lost until 2003.

Although Lenore Kandel was born in New York, within months her family moved to Los Angeles. Her father, Aben Kandel, was a novelist and scriptwriter with Hollywood eyes. About as good as it got was James Cagney and Ann Sheridan starring in the 1940 film of his 1936 novel City for Conquest, unless counting screenplays for I Was a Teenage Werewolf and Kid Monk Baroni, with Leonard Nomoy in the title role.

Aged 12, his daughter was reading about Buddhism and world religion – cardinal elements in her worldview and poetry. One early biography read like a parody of the "sin-steeped story of today's "beat" generation!" tagline for the exploitation movie Live Fast, Die Young. It included early employment as a belly dancer in Turkish cabaret, French teacher and model. Kandel, though, was also writing. An Exquisite Navel, A Passing Dragon and A Passing Dragon Seen Again all appeared in 1959. In 1960 she moved to San Francisco where she fell in with the poets Lew Welch and Gary Snyder.

In Brenda Knight's Women of the Beat Generation (1996), she recalled, "I'd been meaning to come to San Francisco, and I decided to come here for a weekend and I stayed. I met Lew and all the people in that whole trip and when Jack came into town, we all went to Big Sur."

Jack was Jack Kerouac, and in the Kerouac way of fictionalising friends, she became Romana Swartz in his novel Big Sur. He fictionalised her ethnicity but not her ample charms. She was "a big Rumanian monster beauty of some kind I mean with big purple eyes and very tall and big (but Mae West big) ... but also intelligent, well-read, writes poetry, is a Zen student, knows everything."

Kandel took part in poetry events, including reading at the University of California Poetry Conference in November 1964 – on a bill that included Robert Creeley, James Koller and its organiser, Charles Olson. Around 1966, she became involved with Haight-Ashbury's "community anarchist" group the Diggers. They organised free food, medical care, accommodation and free shindigs with music laid on by Jefferson Airplane, Big Brother & the Holding Company and the Grateful Dead. Kandel's activism included sourcing food, driving and Young Digger Poetry Readings. Just ahead of San Francisco's Summer of Love, she took part in the Great Human Be-In in Golden Gate Park, sharing the stage with Ginsberg, Timothy Leary, McClure and others. It was her 35th birthday. McClure later told the San Francisco Chronicle, "The entire crowd of 20,000 or 30,000 people sang 'Happy Birthday' to her."

Months later, her next book of poetry, Word Alchemy, appeared. Kandel's poetry was no-quarter explicit. "I kiss your shoulder and it reeks of lust/the lust of erotic angels fucking the stars" ("To Fuck with Love Phase III") is small beer. Yet her poetry was deeply resonant of her immersion in South Asian mysticism in which spirituality may take allegorical paths, including ones of eroticism and carnality, to divinity. Her "Small Prayer for Falling Angels" communicated an understanding of Hinduism's Goddess Kali that Westerners rarely have. "Kali-Ma, remember the giving of life as well as the giving of death... Kali-Ma, remember the desire is for enlightenment and not oblivion".

In 1970 she and her then-soulmate, the Digger and Hells Angel Bill "Sweet William" Fritsch, were involved in a serious motorcycle crash. Her spine wrecked, she was left permanently disabled. She withdrew, wrote but never published again. In 2005 her work appeared in German translation as Das Liebesbuch/Wortalchemie. A volume reprinting The Love Book and Word Alchemy with new, unpublished poems is long heralded.

Ken Hunt

Lenore Kandel, poet and counter-culture activist: born New York City 14 January 1932; died San Francisco 18 October 2009.

Start your day with The Independent, sign up for daily news emails
News
newsAnother week, another dress controversy on the internet
Life and Style
Scientist have developed a test which predicts whether you'll live for another ten years
health
Life and Style
Marie had fake ID, in the name of Johanna Koch, after she evaded capture by the Nazis in wartime Berlin
historyOne woman's secret life as a Jew in wartime Berlin
News
news... and what your reaction to the creatures above says about you
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
ebooks
ebooksA special investigation by Andy McSmith
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Recruitment Genius: Telesales & Customer Service Executive - Call Centre Jobs

£7 - £9 per hour: Recruitment Genius: Are you outgoing? Do you want to work in...

Ashdown Group: Finance Manager - Covent Garden, central London - £45k - £55k

£45000 - £55000 per annum + 30 days holiday: Ashdown Group: Finance Manager - ...

Ashdown Group: Systems Administrator - Lancashire - £30,000

£28000 - £30000 per annum: Ashdown Group: 3rd Line Support Engineer / Network ...

Recruitment Genius: Graduate Web Developer

£26000 - £33000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: A Web Developer is required to ...

Day In a Page

The difference between America and Israel? There isn’t one

The difference between America and Israel? There isn’t one

Netanyahu knows he can get away with anything in America, says Robert Fisk
Families clubbing together to build their own affordable accommodation

Do It Yourself approach to securing a new house

Community land trusts marking a new trend for taking the initiative away from developers
Head of WWF UK: We didn’t send Cameron to the Arctic to see green ideas freeze

David Nussbaum: We didn’t send Cameron to the Arctic to see green ideas freeze

The head of WWF UK remains sanguine despite the Government’s failure to live up to its pledges on the environment
Author Kazuo Ishiguro on being inspired by shoot-outs and samurai

Author Kazuo Ishiguro on being inspired by shoot-outs and samurai

Set in a mythologised 5th-century Britain, ‘The Buried Giant’ is a strange beast
With money, corruption and drugs, this monk fears Buddhism in Thailand is a ‘poisoned fruit’

Money, corruption and drugs

The monk who fears Buddhism in Thailand is a ‘poisoned fruit’
America's first slavery museum established at Django Unchained plantation - 150 years after slavery outlawed

150 years after it was outlawed...

... America's first slavery museum is established in Louisiana
Kelly Clarkson: How I snubbed Simon Cowell and become a Grammy-winning superstar

Kelly Clarkson: How I snubbed Simon Cowell and become a Grammy-winning superstar

The first 'American Idol' winner on how she manages to remain her own woman – Jane Austen fascination and all
Tony Oursler on exploring our uneasy relationship with technology with his new show

You won't believe your eyes

Tony Oursler's new show explores our uneasy relationship with technology. He's one of a growing number of artists with that preoccupation
Ian Herbert: Peter Moores must go. He should never have been brought back to fail again

Moores must go. He should never have been brought back to fail again

The England coach leaves players to find solutions - which makes you wonder where he adds value, says Ian Herbert
War with Isis: Fears that the looming battle for Mosul will unleash 'a million refugees'

The battle for Mosul will unleash 'a million refugees'

Aid agencies prepare for vast exodus following planned Iraqi offensive against the Isis-held city, reports Patrick Cockburn
Yvette Cooper: We can't lose the election. There's too much on the line

Yvette Cooper: We can't lose the election. There's too much on the line

The shadow Home Secretary on fighting radical Islam, protecting children, and why anyone in Labour who's thinking beyond May must 'sort themselves out'
A bad week for the Greens: Leader Natalie Bennett's 'car crash' radio interview is followed by Brighton council's failure to set a budget due to infighting

It's not easy being Green

After a bad week in which its leader had a public meltdown and its only city council couldn't agree on a budget vote, what next for the alternative party? It's over to Caroline Lucas to find out
Gorillas nearly missed: BBC producers didn't want to broadcast Sir David Attenborough's famed Rwandan encounter

Gorillas nearly missed

BBC producers didn't want to broadcast Sir David Attenborough's famed Rwandan encounter
Downton Abbey effect sees impoverished Italian nobles inspired to open their doors to paying guests for up to €650 a night

The Downton Abbey effect

Impoverished Italian nobles are opening their doors to paying guests, inspired by the TV drama
China's wild panda numbers have increased by 17% since 2003, new census reveals

China's wild panda numbers on the up

New census reveals 17% since 2003