Lenore Kandel on Love: The Beat Poet’s Interview with “Les Gals” Magazine, 1967

Posted by – February 13, 2014
Categories: Interview Literature & the Arts

By Antoinette May

This article was originally published in 1967. A collection of Kandel’s poetry was released by North Atlantic Books in 2012 with a foreword by Diane di Prima.

After love—what?

Thats what we wondered when we heard that Lenore Kandel had authored a sequel to her controversial “The Love Book.”

LenoreKandel_LesGals_magazine copyLate last year Lenore and her poetic description of the love act made headlines.

Lenore’s new book, published by Grove Press, is called, “Word Alchemy.”

Word is a four letter word, but hardly controversial. Alchemy might be more promising. With this in mind Les Gals editor Antoinette May climbed the three steep winding flights of stairs to Lenore’s apartment situated above a North Beach laundry.

The rooms that Lenore shares with her husband are musty, dusty and dark. “I don’t worry about inanimate things,” she explained unnecessarily. Once the latent housewife in Antoinette overcame the desire to tidy up, she became aware of the casual comfort of the place. Indian hangings and tapestries dominated the decor which definitely inclined one to recline for repose or anything else. The place had a definite lived-in, loved-in look that seemed pleasant and appropriate.

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Lenore’s “Love Book” provoked numerous individuals (including the San Francisco pornography squad) not so much because of its subject matter, but, rather, by its choice of words.

Many people took offense when they found words heretofore confined to sidewalks and school desks suddenly appearing in printed books. Their outrage resulted in a lengthy court trial and the conviction of three booksellers. Lenore, herself, was not on trial, although everyone, including the judge, had difficulty remembering the fact.

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LES GALS: Was shock appeal what it’s all about?

LENORE: Certainly not. I used that particular verb because our English vocabulary is very limited. To intercourse with love just doesn’t sound right . Fornicate and copulate seem so medical.

Kandel2LES GALS: Yes, but the verb you chose is offense to a vast number of people.

LENORE: That’s because a word with a beautiful meaning—for two bodies to join through passion and love—has become aggressive. It’s a put-down word now, not a love word.

LES GALS: But don’t you think that by using the word so freely in your book, you’ll detract even more from its very special power and intimacy?

LENORE: No, if everyone used it appropriately—as a love word—it would be heard less.

LES GALS: What is the theme of “The Love Book?”

LENORE: The acceptance and recognition of the divinity of man through the medium of physical love.

LES GALS: “Word Alchemy” seem to contain more variety.

LENORE: Sexuality is a beautiful thing but it’s only part of life and part of my writing. My poems had appeared in 30 magazines and three other books before “The Love Book.” I also have a poem in a fifth grade textbook. I write about all aspects of human life, the creature and the universe he lives in. I never realized that people were that hung up about sexuality.

LES GALS: When did the trouble begin?

LENORE: When two policemen arrested two employees at the Psychedelic Shop and another from City Lights. What followed was a trial by proxy. Even the judge was confused. He kept referring to me as the defendant. Then he’d get flustered and say, ‘No! No! Miss Kandel is NOT the defendant. Strike that.’

LES GALS: Who defended the real defendants?

LENORE: The American Civil Liberties Union. They’re fantastically beautiful people. When they feel the rights of the individual are being violated, they really step forward and do something about it. They received no money for representing the defendants.

LES GALS: Many of the newspaper stories about the trial were amusing. Was the real thing?

LENORE: Sometimes. They tried to throw a man out because he looked young and they thought his mind would be corrupted. He kept insisting that he was 28. Finally they mad him show his I.D. card. He was 28. Then a series of minsters, priests and rabbis debated the correctness of angels making love to stars.

LES GALS: Do you think the trial was a fair one?

LENORE: The people in the jury were all very nice, I’m sure, but I’m certain that none of them read. A lot of our witnesses were disqualified. Art Hoppe was disqualified as a witness on the basis that he had no knowledge of the average man. Other witnesses were rejected by the prosecution because they subscribed to the New Yorker or admitted going to art galleries.

Kandel3LES GALS: A highlight of the trial was your reading of “The Love Book”. Weren’t you even a little embarrassed?

LENORE: Not in the least. Reading from the witness stand is odd, but when you tell the truth, there’s nothing to be afraid of.

LES GALS: Your husband was present. Wasn’t he bothered?

LENORE: He didn’t dig the courtroom thing. It’s a strange position for a man to be in. but I’m the same person in the courtroom that I am in the kitchen and he knows that.

If you’re really married to a person, then you trust your partner. He’s a wonderful beautiful man.

LES GALS: Is he a poet also?

LENORE: You’ll have to ask him that.

LES GALS: Were you surprised by the guilty verdict?

LENORE: I was surprised that it was unanimous. It’s frighting. Police censorship is disrespectful to people. People should be allowed to make up their own minds. For some reason it’s okay to to sell black garter magazines that depict sex as something to snigger over. The movie ads—no matter how vulgar—are allowed as well, because they’re admittedly ‘bad’. Where I got in trouble was in saying that sex and the spirit are both beautiful parts of nature and equally divine. I don’t think there has been a trial since Salem where the words blasphemy or sacrilege have been used.

LES GALS: In the introduction to our new book, you are quoted as saying, your favorite word is “yes”. Do you believe in sex for sex’s sake”?

LENORE: Sexuality with someone you love is far more than a physical act—but that doesn’t mean I’m putting down the physical act. I just want something more than that.

LES GALS: One witness for the defense said that reading your book would help married couples perform the love act better. Do you believe this?

LENORE: Not necessarily perform better, but I do think it could help them communicate better. Marreid people have so many hassles because they cant’ communicate. It’s a terrible thing that two people who should be closest to each other often aren’t. So many men get this good girl-bad girl hang up. They have certain desires that they should express to their wives but instead they fulfill themselves with someone else. This is wrong and unnecessary.

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LES GALS: Didn’t you speak on this subject to a Rotary Club?

LENORE: Yes, they invited me to talk after the trial. I guess they expected a nude girl to pop out of a cake. What they got was me reading poetry. I also advised them stop lying to their wives and business partners.

LES GALS: If you had children would you allow them to read “The Love Book”?

LENORE: I think the important thing is to tell the truth. If children grow up in the environment where truth is a part of life they won’t have dirty minds. There’s certainly nothing harmful in my book, but an honest parent might say to a very small child, “This is a book you’ll understand and enjoy when you are older.” Children mature at different levels. It really depends on the individual. I think it’s a strange thing in our culture that death and torture are acceptable—children can see it everywhere they look—yet the love and tenderness between a man and a woman is something to conceal and feel guilty about. I think this must be very confusing to children.

LES GALS: What were the reactions of your friends to the trial and subsequent publicity?

LENORE: Everyone was surprised. My friends know me and they understand, but still the response was heart-warming. Some old ladies I know—people I thought just might not understand —called up and said, “I haven’t read your book, but I know you wouldn’t do anything wrong.” People that are my friends know that I wasn’t seeking sensationalism.

Kandel4LES GALS: What have been the after effects in your personal life?

LENORE: I’ve made a lot of new friends and received many letters from beautiful people. So many people came up to me and said, “Thank you for expressing what it’s like for a woman; now I can show it to my husband even if I can’t tell him myself.” A man said it was beautiful because he knew now what he wanted.

I think a lot of people began reading poetry for the first time since the ninth grade. Now all of a sudden poetry isn’t separate from life; it’s a part of it and I think I’ve had a part in that. Poetry should be the truth. It can be technically bad and have life. I’m striving for something in between.

LES GALS: Do you think anyone was hurt by the book?

LENORE: No one was hurt. People reacted according to what was in their own natures. Two salesladies in one store told me how much they’d love the book But a shoe salesman in the same store said it was ‘disgusting’. Imagine a shoe salesman! The very ones who are always trying to pinch us and look up our skirts!

LES GALS: What do you plan for the future?

LENORE: More writing, of course. A writer continues to be a writer. That’s what I am.

LES GALS: What do you suggest for others?

LENORE: Find out what you want to be and be there. Tell the truth, be the truth. If we’re to survive, that’s how it’s got to be.

Photo Credit: Joe Melena

Tags: Poetry

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Nick is the marketing and publicity coordinator tackling poetry, literature, and cultural non-fiction for North Atlantic Books. Follow me on Google Plus.