Kandel, Lenore

(1932– )
   Lenore Kandel is a second generation Beat poet whose life and work articulate the connection between the Beat movement of the 1950s and the hippie counterculture of the 1960s. Bringing avantgarde impulses of Beat poetics into the radical 1960s counterculture, Kandel expressed an emerging feminism in her poems, which are cool and streetwise, existential and mystical, prophetic and incantatory, erotic and psychedelic. This distinctive blend marks Kandel’s transfiguration of Beat writing and anticipation of the hippie ethos. Kandel was born in New York City in 1932 and spent her adolescence in Los Angeles. After studying at the New School for Social Research in New York in the 1950s, she returned to California in the 1960s and has resided in the San Francisco area since. Part of the North Beach Beat scene, Kandel lived in East– West House, had a relationship with the poet lew welch, and was immortalized by jack kerouac as Ramona Schwarz in his 1962 novel BiG sur. When she moved into Haight–Ashbury in the early 1960s, Kandel brought a female Beat bohemian experience and sensibility to that scene, reincarnating the 1950s hipster as a 1960s peace-and-love hippie. In her poetry, sited in women’s and sexual liberation movements of the 1960s, Kandel transforms the Beat Generation’s beaten-down exhaustion to the love generation’s postcoital exaltation and transfers feminine junkie malaise to the feminist sexual revolution. Kandel’s distinction is her contribution to these two related countercultures, her embodiment of the conjunction and overlap of Beat Generation social critiques and 1960s movements for personal and political liberation.
   Kandel’s poems of her North Beach period, first published in mimeographed broadsides, are distinctively Beat Generation/New York hipster in mood and texture. Beat Generation skepticism is felt in elegies such as “first they slaughtered the angels,” “Junk/Angel” or “Blues for Sister Sally,” which bear the hip street smarts and incantatory rhythms, the contempt of conformity and anti-authority contentiousness of allen ginsberg and the nihilism of Welch. Through perspectives rooted in female sexuality and women’s lives, Kandel’s expression of iconic Beat subjects, forms, and dictions makes visible the usually dismissed women of Beat bohemia and reinvents Beat movement aesthetics to fit her feminist slant.
   Living in the Haight–Ashbury community, Kandel transformed her Beat voice to speak in the liberated radical and psychedelic tones of the new countercultural movement, shifting her aesthetics to challenge the 1950s “Age of Anxiety” with the sexual ecstasy of the 1960s “Age of Aquarius.” Her 1966 collection, The love Book, a graphic paean to heterosexual love that is grounded in Beat poetics and Eastern mysticism, was a groundbreaking expression of female sexual freedom and psychedelic ethics. Its hippie-inflected love diction and erotic outlook offer Beat Generation sex, drugs, and mysticism not as palliatives for cold-war paranoia but as blissful panaceas. The book made Kandel a local celebrity and became notorious when it was confiscated by San Francisco police for obscenity, repeating a decade later the seminal Beat event of the seizure and trial of Ginsberg’s Howl on the same grounds. As the only female speaker among such men as Ginsberg, gary snyder, and timothy leary, Kandel read The Love Book poems at the 1967 Human Be-In at Golden Gate Park, defiantly resisting the ban on her erotica and free speech. The case against the book and its sellers was ultimately dropped, and in 2004 The Love Book was reissued. The unabashed sexually descriptive lyrics and uninhibited vernacular diction—which caused attempts to censor the book—accord with the hippie emergence, heralding sexually liberated women and psychedelic communal consciousness in the literature of the new antiwar, free love counterculture. In 1967 Grove Press published Kandel’s second and last book of poetry to date, Word Alchemy. Her introduction to this volume addresses The Love Book controversy from a clearly Beat perspective, as Kandel pronounces, “Poetry is never compromise. It is a manifestation/translation of a vision, an illumination, an experience.” At the same time, she condemns the Vietnam War and its slaughters, identifying the poet’s vocation with the central concerns of her age. Never far from her mind is women’s liberation from oppression and stereotype. With the open, desirous eroticism of “Love–Lust Poem,” the female poet–speaker seizes the freedom to demand and relish sexual gratification, voicing her desire and yearning with sex words that are frank and free: “I want you to explode that hot spurt of pleasure inside me / and I want to lie there with you / smelling the good smell of fuck that’s all over us.” Taking a different tack toward a similar end, the prose poem “Morning Song” makes a claim for women’s emancipation through mocking images of feminine and domestic culture and, by poetic play on the word wife, rejects bourgeois marriage as demeaning to women: “Eyes shut as an unborn bird he lay unmoving and examined the presence of his wife. wife. WIFE. wIFe. wife.” Kandel’s 1960s art revises male Beat misogyny with feminist assertion, effecting the continuity of Beat Generation and hippie countercultures by making women count in both.
   Kandel did not achieve mainstream or academic literary recognition, if for no other reason Lenore Kandel and Dr. Timothy Leary, Be-In, San Francisco, 1967. Photographer Larry Keenan: “Poet Lenore Kandel and guru Timothy Leary are talking together on stage at the ‘Gathering of the Tribes: The Human Be-In.’ ” than her de facto disappearance from literary publication and communities. Presciently, in the introduction to Word Alchemy, Kandel warns of the death or disappearance of the poet by means of forces outside poetry, such as censorship or compromise: “To compromise poetry through expedience is the soft, small murder of the soul.” In 1970 Kandel suffered a serious motorcycle accident with her then-husband, Hell’s Angel Billy Fritsch (Sweet William), and at this time withdrew from public literary activity. Freewheeling sexual imagery and language, ethical recoil from war, and all-encompassing defense of women’s autonomy and personhood distinguish the poetry of Lenore Kandel. Her transformation of hipster cool with female sexual energy made her a Beat poet of 1960s countercultural consequence. Her transgression of cultural and legal restrictions on speech and female decorum made her an icon of liberation.
■ Cook, Bruce. The Beat Generation: The Tumultuous ’50s Movement and Its Impact on Today. New York: Scribner, 1971.
■ Gifford, Barry, and Lawrence Lee. Jack’s Book: An Oral Biography of Jack Kerouac. New York: St. Martin’s Press, 1978.
■ Johnson, Ronna C. “Lenore Kandel’s The Love Book: Psychedelic Poetics, Cosmic Erotica, and Sexual Politics in the Mid-sixties Counterculture.” In Reconstructing the Beats, edited by Jennie Skerl, 89–104. New York: Palgrave Macmillan, 2004.
■ Wolf, Leonard. Voices from the Love Generation. Boston: Little, Brown, 1968.
   Ronna C. Johnson

Encyclopedia of Beat Literature. . 2014.

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