50 Years Ago This Week: the Love Book Arrests to Ban Lenore Kandel’s Poetry
Censorship at the cusp of the Beats and the Summer of Love
I am the god-animal, the mindless cuntdeity the hegod-animal
is over me, through me we are become one total angel
united in fire united in semen and sweat united in lovescream
sacred our acts and our actions
sacred our parts and our persons
From "To Fuck with Love Phase II", The Love Book by Lenore Kandel
“When a society is afraid of its poets, it is afraid of itself. A society afraid of itself stands as another definition of hell.” -Lenore Kandel
50 years ago this week,on November 15, 1966, San Francisco police inspectors arrested workers at the Psychedelic Book Shop and at City Lights Bookstore for possession of pornography with intent to sell.
The material in question? A book of poetry, The Love Book, by Lenore Kandel, whose brilliant work weaves together themes of sex, zen, and the political and cultural climate of the sixties.
You can see some footage of an ensuing protest here.
The police action to remove the book was part of a symbolic power-wielding by newly elected right-wing celebrity-cum-govenor, Ronald Reagan.
As Peter Coyote describes in Sleeping Where I Fall:
In 1966, Ronald Reagan was elected governor of California, promising to punish the mouthy students acting up in Berkeley and to fry the inmates on San Quentin’s death row. His victory signaled a sea change in the social climate, and about a week later, the Psychedelic Shop was raided by the police, who seized copies of Lenore’s erotic poems, The Love Book. These graphic paeans to monogamous love and sex had been published before, and since you could walk into any street corner and buy hard-core pornography or open a men’s magazine for steamier stuff, our community perceived this as Reagan’s attack on the psychedelic culture.
The case went to trial in April 1967. From an article by Jeffrey M. Burns:
The high point for the defense came with their initial witness — the poet herself, Lenore Kandel. Ms. Kandel added a theatrical dimension to the proceedings, appearing in “a brilliant orange turtleneck sweater, burgundy jacket, and vivid orange stockings.” She then read her poem to the jury in tones “more reverent than passionate.” In addition, she read selections from the “erotic” poetry of Brother Antoninus (William Everson) and St. John of the Cross. She defended her poem in language quintessential to the 1960s: “Love is a four-letter word,” she noted, observing that the really obscene words were “hate,” “bomb,” and “war”. “If we can recognize our own beauty, it will be impossible for any human being to bring harm to any other human being. We owe each other loving responsibility.” Finally, when asked if the poem was religious, she responded, “Yes, and everyone who makes love is religious."
Burns goes on to describe the outcome of the trial:
After ten hours of deliberation, the jury found the defendants guilty. They concluded that “The Love Book” was obscene and had “no redeeming social value.” In 1971, however, the verdict was overturned.
The trial had two immediate results besides the fines imposed on the sales clerks. First, sales of “The Love Book” skyrocketed. Prior to the trial less than 100 copies had been sold; after the trial sales soared to 20,000 plus. In appreciation, Ms. Kandel donated one percent of the profits to the Police Retirement Association.
Fortunately, Kandel’s poetry endures. You can get all of The Love Book plus much more in Collected Poems of Lenore Kandel.
Unless the police come for it again.