“Avaunt! ‚ÄĒ to-night
My heart is light ‚ÄĒ
No dirge will I upraise,
But waft the angel on her flight
With a P√¶an of old days!
Let no bell toll!
Lest her sweet soul,
Amid its hallow’d mirth,
Should catch the note
As it doth float
Up from the damned earth ‚ÄĒ
To friends above, from fiends below, th’ indignant ghost is riven ‚ÄĒ
From grief and moan
To a gold throne
Beside the King of Heaven?”
E.A. Poe, ‚ÄúLenore‚ÄĚ
Lenore Kandel came into my consciousness at a Pittsburgh used book store, where the smiling Kandel in braided hair and sweetly smirking eye dared me from the cover to enter her book, this adventure in Word Alchemy. Her 1967 book, then already out of print in 1978, has become a prized part of my collection.
Her introduction, ‚ÄúPoetry is never compromise,‚ÄĚ and the immediate warning, ‚ÄúIf you compromise your vision you become a blind prophet,‚ÄĚ stirred my sensibilities. I‚Äôd already been writing poems for years, and here in one declarative sentence Kandel had distilled my belief to pure and naked honesty. As I read on, she carried the theme: ‚ÄúIt is not necessarily comfortable,‚ÄĚ and ‚ÄúIt is not necessarily safe.‚ÄĚ
Today, Twenty-First Century America has become less honest, less comfortable, and less safe for honest poets than in the days when Lenore‚Äôs Love Book was seized by San Francisco police. Sure, we are more crude, and adolescent sexual innuendo and scatological quips abound on prime time TV, but at the core we are more Puritanical than those shrouded Hawthornian deacons of yore. Most contemporary poets stay in the easy chair of comfortable upper middle class humor or refined MFA workshop linguistic gymnastics, afraid of illumination.
Write about something that REALLY matters and you‚Äôll straightway be assaulted or, worse yet, ignored.
Lenore Kandel‚Äôs raw language threw her detractors off the true trail. In ‚ÄúInvocation for Maitreya,‚ÄĚ she calls ‚Äúto invoke the divinity in man with the mutual gift of love / with love as animate and bright as breath.‚ÄĚ Through the act of sexual intimacy man and woman reach that point ‚Äúuntil there is nothing left but the radiant universe / the meteors of light flaming through wordless skies‚Ä¶.‚ÄĚ
So much for those who turned first to ‚ÄúLove-Lust Poem,‚ÄĚ the work that no doubt sent her persecutors to fits of masturbational bliss, achieving the only one-handed/one-sided love their narcissistic righteousness ever could know. They finished reading prematurely and never made it to the last lines: ‚Äú‚Ä¶and you kiss me with that aching sweetness / and there is no end to love.‚ÄĚ
Kandel called out those who pressed charges of obscenity in her poem ‚ÄúFirst They Slaughtered the Angels‚ÄĚ:
‚Ä¶who finked on the angels?
Who stole the holy grail and hocked it for a jug of wine?
As the young of this second decade of the Twenty-First Century, glued to smart phones, MP3 music, and ‚Äúkill ‚Äėem all‚ÄĚ video games immerse themselves in their own self-righteous narcissism, Lenore‚Äôs ‚ÄúSmall Prayer for Falling Angels‚ÄĚ should impregnate their brains with consciousness.
Kali-Ma, remember the desire is for enlightenment and not for
So, yes, I have loved Lenore Kandel though I never heard her voice, touched her hand, looked into those radiant eyes. I imagine her joy as thousands sang Happy Birthday at the 1967 Human Be-In when she was the only woman to take the stage. Ah, yes, I was in high school then, nearly a continent away, but though the gift of her poems I have learned she was more than Kerouac‚Äôs big Rumanian monster beauty who knew everything. By then, Kerouac was too gone, too drunk, too burned out to fully comprehend the gift of her being. Can the light break through to those who cannot see, even today?
Lenore, you‚Äôve gone from the ‚Äúdamned earth,‚ÄĚ but somewhere that spiritual light sparkles from a place in the holy of holies and we are left with the enlightenment of your collected poems, a book long overdue. May today‚Äôs censors rant. May their teeth grind in despair, for at last you‚Äôre recognized for your art and wisdom. You can rest in divine peace.
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Like Lenore Kandel’s page on Facebook HERE.
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Jack Kerouac immortalized her in his novel Big Sur. A student of Zen, she hung out with Gary Snyder and Allen Ginsberg and was a speaker at San Francisco‚Äôs Human Be-In. But Lenore Kandel was no muse or hanger-on; she was a brilliant lyric poet, often unabashedly erotic, and that‚Äôs where her legacy lies.
Collected Poems of Lenore Kandel contains 150+ samples of her art, from the ‚Äúholy erotica‚ÄĚ 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 ‚Äúdivine animal‚ÄĚ duality. The collection includes poems written from the early fifties up until Kandel‚Äôs death.