An assay by Dianella Bardelli
“Love is a gift. No bargain ”. The poet Lenora Kandel pronounced these very
current words during an interview appeared in “ Voices from the love
generation” published by Leonard Wolf in 1968.
In this interview Lenore speaks about her poetry, but above all about her
lifestyle, of her and also of the youth movement who operated in the Haight
Ashbury district in San Francisco between 1960 and 1970, which had the
sexual liberation, in the puritan America of those years, as its flag.
“ What are you into?” – the interviewer asks – “People and words, dreams and
visions” – Lenore answers- and she adds: “ I’am a writer, but I’am a woman.
And I wouldn’t sacrifice the woman part of it for a writing part of it… I’ve
always been pretty sensual myself. I think all this things about original sin and
Adam’s fall is passing…You love somebody, you take them and you accept
them entirely. And they ‘re supposed to accept you. Wherever you’re at, if
they love you. The only way I know it’s going to happen is by experimentation,
by living, and by telling the truth (page 36).
Of Romanian and Russian descent, Lenore Kandel lived between New York and
Los Angeles before to move definitively to San Francisco. She had begun to
write poetry since she was a child, but it is from San Francisco’s years that
Lenore writes her best poetic compositions. Here she became an activist of the
anarchist group of The Diggers that provided free food, clothes and medical
care to anyone needed it. In addition to writing poetry Lenore did many jobs,
for example dancer, singer, female drivers of buses. She participated at the
hippy meeting at Golden Gate Park in 1967; it was her thirty-fifth birthday.
When, only woman on the stage, she took the floor, 25000 people sang
According to those who knew her in that period, she had a charismatic beauty
with round and sexual shapes; she attracted the attention of anyone meeting
her for her dominant and at the same time peaceful appearance.
I think of Lenore as a fearless woman, you can imagine it from her life and
poetry. She wasn’t afraid of herself and of others. First of all of men who
Lenore loved. She wasn’t afraid to lose control. She liked losing control.
In 1966 her little collection of poetry “The love book” was convicted of
obscenity. In this little book of only eight pages and 825 words, Lenore
poetically addresses the issue of sexual love between a woman and a man. The
language is explicit, every part of female and male body in regard to sexual act
is directly mentioned, not euphemistically. “Everyone who makes love is
religious”, said Lenore Kandel in her defense to the jury during the trial for her
little book. And added: “I believe that when human beings are so close
together they can become one flesh and spirit, they transcend the human into
the divine. And in fact in these poems it is said that Love makes the entire
universe a bloom and the two lovers are the avatar of Krishna and Rada, the
pure love – desire of divinity; and they became as one total angel, united in
the seed and sweat, united in the howl of love and sacred are their acts and
their bodies. Their bodies moves like flesh to flesh, their faces in the act of
love are the faces of all the gods and the beautiful demons.
Those of “The love book” are autobiographic poems, with the tools and
gestures of man and woman’s material bodies, the sex act rises itself every
time to a sacral and spiritual, totally immaterial, up to the moment into which
two became one, and everything stops, stops braking apart, to be a whole of
different pieces but one immaterial, invisible, powerful, aimless, spiritual world.
The Lenore’s poetry book that I love most is “World Alchemy” (1967). It is the
most visionary poetry collection of Lenore Kandel. Lenore visions are directed
to everything that exists, that maybe exists, that could exist. In her opinion “
each beast contains its god, all gods are dreams, all dreams are true” (a verse
from her poem “Freak show and finale”). Also if the words are not the things in
Lenore they obtain this power.
Because“Word Alchemy” speaks of men – animals, women – moon, petals that
contain the universe. This poem speaks of them in the same manner of things
you see and touch. For Lenore reality and imagination are equal. In her eyes
are both true. From what the alchemical word come from? And above all may it
have the power to transform the reality? Yes if it is assumed that the reality as
final data doesn’t exist, only the transformation exists, it changes form, color,
attitude. It happens in a non ordinary time and place, where the emptiness of
all things reigns supreme. Where our aspirations, certainties, fears have no
power. In “Word alchemy” Lenore Kandel talks about all of this, and also about
human beings’ wild nature, who are able to do the good as well as the bad, to
kill and love.
The women gaze deep into the things, they can see directly the
transformation, they can feel it, touch it. They have eyes full of memories of
the ancient times when gods and human beings hadn’t been separated yet;
they have green eyes and white wings. The men have not yet killed the wolf in
themselves, they have tattooed backbones, and star-encrusted tongue. The
poets have tiger face while they read their texts. And there are directions to go
that never existed. And there is the silence that is in the rose’s maze only, and
there is her, Lenore who demands as Kerouac to see the face of god as the
tadpole asks to became a frog because the time barriers are only conventions.
And Lenore demands also replies for what she hasn’t know the question yet.
And there is also the inability to love the enemies, because it is easier to love a
stranger than the tyrants, those who have “slaughtered the angels”, tying their
legs and cut their “silk throats”, the same tyrants who have eaten the “lamb
Lenore Kandel has had an adventurous life and in some ways dramatic. In the
mid-60s in a cooperative of writers she met William Fritsch, nicknamed Sweet
William, who fell immediately in love with her. They got together and Lenore
joined him on his Harley Davidson’s raids and the reckless life of the Hells
Angels of San Francisco. In ’70 the two had a serious motorcycle accident and
Lenore was seriously injured in her back in such a way that she wasn’t able to
walk as before. From then on, after a long stay in hospital, Lenore spent the
last forty years ( she passed in 2009 ) in her little apartment rarely leaving the
house but for some readings.
In 2007 during the commemorative event of “San Francisco’s summer of love”
of forty years before ( The Summer Of Love Survivors 40th Anniversary), was
asked to Lenore Kandel what she was doing in 1967 and what she is doing in
2007; her reply was: 1967 writing poetry; 2007: writing poetry. Meaning
that the most important thing of her hippy youth is that she wrote poetry; as if
having been part of anarchic political group of the Diggers has been removed,
or having participated to the San Francisco Be-in was no longer worthy of note.
As if passionate loves were no longer worth of note or her opinions about
sexual love were no longer worth of note. As if she was closed for all her life in
a room writing poetry instead of living passionately every moment of her 35
years before the motorcycle accident.
The North Atlantic books published a collection of poems of Lenore Kandel, in
2012; in the site of the publisher we read: “ Collected Poems of Lenore Kandel
contains 80 examples of her art, from the “holy erotica” of her early years to
later, more contemplative works. Many of the poems have never been
published, others only in rare ephemeral publications. Some are explicit,
celebrating carnal love as part of the divine. Others are humorous and cover
more quotidian subjects. A recurring theme is the “divine animal” duality. The
collection includes poems written from the early fifties up until Kandel’s death
An assay by Dianella Bardelli