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.

Arts and Entertainment
Sheridan Smith as Cilla Black and Ed Stoppard as her manager Brian Epstein
tvCilla Episode 2 review: Grit under the glamour in part two of biopic series starring Sheridan Smith
Sport
David Moyes and Louis van Gaal
football
News
Former Governor of Alaska Sarah Palin, left, with her daughter, Bristol
newsShe's 'proud' of eldest daughter, who 'punched host in the face'
Sport
New Zealand fly-half Aaron Cruden pictured in The Zookeeper's Son on a late-night drinking session
rugby
PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
News
ebooksAn unforgettable anthology of contemporary reportage
News
A cabin crew member photographed the devastation after one flight
news
Life and Style
Carol O'Brien, whose son Rob suffered many years of depression
healthOne mother's story of how London charity Maytree helped her son with his depression
Life and Style
food + drink
Arts and Entertainment
The cover of Dark Side of the Moon
musicCan 'The Endless River' carry on the tradition? See for yourself
News
Rob Merrick's Lobby Journalists were playing Ed Balls' Labour Party MPs. The match is an annual event which takes place ahead of the opening of the party conference
newsRob Merrick insistes 'Ed will be hurting much more than me'
Voices
A new app has been launched that enables people to have a cuddle from a stranger
voicesMaybe the new app will make it more normal to reach out to strangers
News
Liam Payne has attacked the media for reporting his tweet of support to Willie Robertson and the subsequent backlash from fans
peopleBut One Direction star insists he is not homophobic
Life and Style
healthFor Pure-O OCD sufferers this is a reality they live in
Life and Style
Sexual health charities have campaigned for the kits to be regulated
healthAmerican woman who did tells parents there is 'nothing to be afraid of'
Life and Style
fashion
Arts and Entertainment
The John Peel Lecture has previously been given by Pete Townshend of The Who, Billy Bragg and Charlotte Church
musicGodfather of punk will speak on 'free music in a capitalist society'
News
peopleAt least it's for a worthwhile cause
News
Shoppers in Covent Garden, London, celebrate after they were the first to buy the iPhone 6, released yesterday
tech
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

Pharmaceutical Computer System Validation Specialist

£300 - £350 Per Day: Clearwater People Solutions Ltd: Pharmaceutical Computer ...

High Level Teaching Assistant (HTLA)

£70 - £90 per day: Randstad Education Birmingham: Higher Level Teaching Assist...

Teaching Assistant

£50 - £80 per day: Randstad Education Birmingham: Randstad Education is the UK...

Senior Java Developer - API's / Webservices - XML, XSLT

£400 - £450 Per Day: Clearwater People Solutions Ltd: Our client is currently ...

Day In a Page

A roller-coaster tale from the 'voice of a generation'

Not That Kind of Girl:

A roller-coaster tale from 'voice of a generation' Lena Dunham
London is not bedlam or a cradle of vice. In fact it, as much as anywhere, deserves independence

London is not bedlam or a cradle of vice

In fact it, as much as anywhere, deserves independence
Vivienne Westwood 'didn’t want' relationship with Malcolm McLaren

Vivienne Westwood 'didn’t want' relationship with McLaren

Designer 'felt pressured' into going out with Sex Pistols manager
Jourdan Dunn: Model mother

Model mother

Jordan Dunn became one of the best-paid models in the world
Apple still coolest brand – despite U2 PR disaster

Apple still the coolest brand

Despite PR disaster of free U2 album
Scottish referendum: The Yes vote was the love that dared speak its name, but it was not to be

Despite the result, this is the end of the status quo

Boyd Tonkin on the fall-out from the Scottish referendum
Manolo Blahnik: The high priest of heels talks flats, Englishness, and why he loves Mary Beard

Manolo Blahnik: Flats, Englishness, and Mary Beard

The shoe designer who has been dubbed 'the patron saint of the stiletto'
The Beatles biographer reveals exclusive original manuscripts of some of the best pop songs ever written

Scrambled eggs and LSD

Behind The Beatles' lyrics - thanks to Hunter Davis's original manuscript copies
'Normcore' fashion: Blending in is the new standing out in latest catwalk non-trend

'Normcore': Blending in is the new standing out

Just when fashion was in grave danger of running out of trends, it only went and invented the non-trend. Rebecca Gonsalves investigates
Dance’s new leading ladies fight back: How female vocalists are now writing their own hits

New leading ladies of dance fight back

How female vocalists are now writing their own hits
Mystery of the Ground Zero wedding photo

A shot in the dark

Mystery of the wedding photo from Ground Zero
His life, the universe and everything

His life, the universe and everything

New biography sheds light on comic genius of Douglas Adams
Save us from small screen superheroes

Save us from small screen superheroes

Shows like Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D are little more than marketing tools
Reach for the skies

Reach for the skies

From pools to football pitches, rooftop living is looking up
These are the 12 best hotel spas in the UK

12 best hotel spas in the UK

Some hotels go all out on facilities; others stand out for the sheer quality of treatments