photo: Gordon Peters
From the San Francisco Chronicle:
Lenore Kandel – ‘The Love Book’ author – dies
Julian Guthrie, Chronicle Staff Writer
Thursday, October 22, 2009
Lenore Kandel hung out with Beat poets and was immortalized by Jack Kerouac, wrote a book of love poetry banned as obscene and seized by police, and believed in communal living, anarchic street theater, belly dancing, and all things beautiful.
Ms. Kandel, a lyric poet and one of the shining lights of San Francisco’s famous counterculture of the ’60s, died on Oct. 18 in San Francisco. She was 77 and had been diagnosed with lung cancer two weeks earlier.
“I met Lenore in 1965 at a citywide meeting of artists opposed to the war in Vietnam,” said actor Peter Coyote. “Lenore was physically beautiful and physically commanding. She had this voluptuous plumpness about her and an absolute serenity.”
Coyote, Ms. Kandel and her then-boyfriend Bill Fritsch – a poet and Hell’s Angel – became fast friends.
“She was working as a belly dancer and would sew these beaded curtains to make money on the side,” said Coyote, a founder of the Diggers, an anarchistic group supplying free food, housing and medical aid to the needy in San Francisco. “We would sit around and smoke dope and talk about philosophy and art. She was an enlightened person, a great being.”
Born in New York City on Jan. 14, 1932, to Russian and Mongol parents, Ms. Kandel was educated in a one-room schoolhouse in Bucks County, Pa., where she lived with her grandmother. She began writing poetry as a child, attended college in New York and moved to San Francisco around 1960, toward the end of the Beat era. Once here, she became the girlfriend of poet Lew Welch and friends with the movement’s seminal figures, including Gary Snyder, Neal Cassady and Allen Ginsberg.
In “Big Sur,” Kerouac’s 1962 novel, Ms. Kandel is portrayed as Romana Swartz, a “big Rumanian monster beauty” and Welch as Dave Wain.
By the mid-1960s, Ms. Kandel was a key figure in the burgeoning hippie scene in the Haight-Ashbury. Her book of poetry “The Love Book,” published in 1966, was deemed pornographic and the famed Psychedelic Shop on Haight Street where it was sold was raided by the police. Copies were confiscated on the grounds that their display and sale “excited lewd thoughts” and the store’s owners were arrested.
” ‘The Love Book’ was extremely graphic sexually,” said Gerald Nicosia, a Kerouac biographer and Beat generation chronicler. “She showed this openness to sexuality, this freedom of lifestyle. With ‘The Love Book,’ she became a cause celebre. But Lenore was a true lyric poet. Her language was as beautiful as anything being written.”
Ms. Kandel wrote another book of poetry, “Word Alchemy,” published in 1967. The same year, she was the only woman to speak onstage at the Human Be-In in Golden Gate Park.
“She went from the Beat community to the Diggers, to being a major player at the Human Be-In,” said the poet and Beat documentarian who goes by the name of Kush. “She was a very deep poet, and she was committed to radical values and transforming culture.”
Longtime friend Vicki Pollack, also a member of the Diggers, met Kandel in 1968.
“I saw her read from ‘Word Alchemy,’ which is her most beautiful work,” Pollack said. “It changed the way I saw poetry. She became for me a rock star.”
In recent years, Ms. Kandel – who had suffered grievous spinal injuries in a motorcycle crash aboard Fritsch’s Harley – was confined to her small apartment on Folsom Street. She continued to write, her friends say, and to find joy in everyday encounters.
“She was in a lot of pain because of her back,” said Pollack. “But she got enjoyment out of anything and everything. Lenore had what I call the gift of happiness.”
A private memorial service is being planned.