KANDEL AND THE ANIMAL: a review of lenore kandel’s collected poems
I have never seen a wild thing feel sorry for itself. A little bird will fall dead, frozen from a bough, without ever having felt sorry for itself.
If you like Allen Ginsberg, you will like Lenore Kandel. If poems of hers like “Now Vision” and “First They Slaughtered the Angels” were mistakenly printed in Ginsberg’s “Collected” instead of Kandel’s, I don’t think anyone would look twice. Her breakthrough first collection “The Love Book” even went through a “Howl”-esque censorship trial before it was released.
This is to say: Lenore Kandel is a bona fide Beat. She’s not anthologized next to Kerouac and Ginsberg and Burroughs and Anne Waldman only because she was writing when and where they were. In fact, her work bolsters and then expands on the Beat oeuvre. There are psychedelics (“Peyote Walk”), there are visions (“Now Vision,” “Rose/Vision”), there is the celebration/liberation of sex and the demonization of sexual inhibition (“To Fuck with Love, Phase I – III”), there is Eastern religion, there is the mental institution (“Telephone from a Madhouse”). That is all content stuff, but Kandel is like Ginsberg in terms of style stuff too. There is Whitman-esque anathema, there are exclamation points everywhere, everything is HOLY this and HOLY HOLY HOLY!!! that, there is incantation and supersaturation and revelation. There is also the feeling of a call to arms, or a rousing of readers to action. The poems, especially the later ones, and especially especially “The Love Book,” make readers (or, to be precise, make at least one reader) want to rally some troops and join some cause or other.
A book of poetry is a piece of scripture, a concrete metaphor for faith; all parties, i.e. reader and writer alike, must believe the poetic transaction is worthwhile to go through with actually reading the stuff. Especially today. Bear with me now. The whole point of that new book Monoculture is that every culture everywhere and everywhen is founded on one core principle, a single founding value or idea that makes that culture’s world go round. If that sounds grossly oversimplified, it is. But it’s a helpful way to think about history, if nothing else. In any case, Monoculture says that contemporary American culture is founded on the value of economy, has been since the Industrial Revolution, and increasingly so since. Other cultures were based on religion or art or agriculture (I’m guessing here, I should probably read the book before explaining it, but my guess seems pretty safe). So, to come back to the idea at the top of this paragraph, the reason a poetic transaction with Kandel’s “Collected” is worthwhile today is that it is anti-economy, in both subject and technique (or, to use the terms used above, in both content stuff and style stuff). Kandel’s is a poetry that does not champion compression, does not care about that mountain of ice under the tip of the iceberg, does not suggest or imply or gesture toward. Kandel is a pure excessivist. Her poetry is about total inclusion, utter exposure, the fullest frontal view of a thing. It can’t be put more clearly than Kandel herself puts it in her Intro: “To compromise poetry through expediency is the soft, small murder to the soul.”
“Time is money” is the most damning damaging equation around. In America we are money-obsessed, yes, but the real tragedy is that that makes us time-obsessed too. There is a culturally imposed over-emphasis on efficiency and speed-speed-speed. I would try to be more specific but I don’t think what I’m talking about is very specific; it is a mountain too vast to view. Franzen calls ours a techno-consumerist society, and the number one appeal made to the public by Apple etc. to sell product is to say this one is faster faster faster. I’m not saying people move too quickly for their own good due to consumerist appeal. I make no claim of causality. I’m only saying it’s all just yarn wrapped up in the same speedy spool. There is no time to think, no time to remember, ever. People don’t look at beauty, they shoot it on cameras and hoard it away. Time can not be made, like money is made. It is literally the only infinite resource on earth. Tell me if I’m crazy, but the speed is ruining the world! America at least. I see my country like a boy on a bike, biking downhill, and he’s pedaling fast fast fast, a million miles an hour, and he’s still looking over and it looks like he’s smiling, but as he turns away to look back down the downhilled road, you see the muscles in his cheek are clenched, and he’s gripping those handle-bars awfully tight.
But, there not being time to think is the big thing. People talk too fast, don’t they? At least people my age do. I think it’s a specifically American thing. I lived in Scotland a year and a half and boy do the lads love their chat. They sit and banter all damn night, night after night, no problem. Banter is their raison or joie or esprit d’vivre (but they wouldn’t use those words ever; banter about hating the French was prime banter). Living there, this fact was no mountain too vast to view. It was just a mountain, out in the open, plain as Arthur’s Seat. When Jake from Jedburgh or Mike from Mulgavie or Callum from Liverpool Or Francis from Southampton or Steve or Chris from North Berwick asked each other what they were doing that night, they would say, straight up, “I dunno, sit around, drink tinnies, banter for seven to nine hours, aye?” I loved sitting- and joining-in on my flatmates’ banter sessions precisely because such night-long sessions were foreign to me. In America, especially in college, we would drink and we would talk, but only for a little, only during some pre-game, and we usually played drinking games or just binge drank which limited discussion, and when we did talk we would talk about a subject for a minute at a time, get bored and move on, or go out to a bar, or go do any damn thing besides sit around and talk. Ugh! So boring!
Since getting back from the UK, my impression of youngish Americans as short-attention-spanned efficiency-nuts worsened. I date and live with and love a girl who works for Path, the social network, so I get a lot of first-hand material concerning the changing ways people my age interact. First I should say there is a ton of good to be said for social networks and techno-interpersonal relations in general, but there is a little bit bad to be said for them, too. If you believe, like I kind of do, and like those Richard Linklater movies with Ethan Hunt do, that God, if (s)he exists, exists in the space between people, then social networks are a sensitive and potentially sacred place. The question is, what happens to that space when it exists as a user interface, and when other people exist as pixels, and when interpersonal exchanges are the good that my girlfriend’s company and companies like it are selling (but not selling, because it’s free, I know I know, but just still please bear with me or else it’s not fun), and thus those interpersonal exchanges are designed to happen as quickly and easily as possible, as streamlined as the Model T or whatever, etc? There is a big lie happening here! The lie is that interpersonal exchanges are easy. Because they are not! It seems to me, for the majority of the time, dealing with other people is exactly that: dealingwith them. Friends and loved ones are precious because they are the people with whom it is (finally mercifully) easy to interact. Here is one grain of salt you should take: I have been a shy socially anxious person my entire life. I have had friends and I have engaged the group, but every relationship that means anything to me today took some time to create. I tend to hold on to old relationships because they seem to me to be the most valuable. Suffice it to say that social networks are in the business of economizing the personal relationship. Now, bear with me for the hundredth time, so I can get back to Kandel and try to tie this mad mess up.
As suggested, Kandel’s “Love Book” is kind of the female “Howl.” The opening poem is called “God/Love Poem” which introduces the book’s main thrust (haha), which thrust is thrust again in the next poem, “To Fuck with Love Phase I,” and pretty perfectly summed up there, too, as such: “my GOD the worship that it is to fuck!” In “Phase II,” Kandel uses/invents this word: “cuntdeity,” which is a nice summation of the book’s mission. The book’s mission seems to be to reveal and revel in the godliness of sex, which is a kind of crude version of the notion that God exists in the space between people (or is maybe rather the notion that God exists in the eliminating of space between people, but whatever, by now I just trust you to bear with.)
To follow “Love Book,” Kandel released “Word Alchemy” a year later, which built on her let’s-all-fuck-and-thus-find-God themes, but which added a wrinkle to them too. I like “Word Alchemy” better because it comes off less as a piece of shock-theater, which for some reason I knee-jerk mistrust and condemn. It is less look-how-liberated-I-am, and more let-me-help-you-feel-free-too. Her main piece of how-to-be-free-like-me advice is to let yourself be more of an animal. She doesn’t celebrate the animal within the self, but rather, she celebrates the animal as the self. “love me, love my elephant…” is the opening line of “Beast Parade,” and “ACCEPT THE CREATURE/ AND BEGIN THE DANCE!” is the closing couplet of “Freak Show and Finale.” Those became my favorite two lines of the whole slew. Her poems shout at the top of their lungs: “WE ARE ANIMALS, PEOPLE, AND THE MORE WE ACCEPT THAT THE HAPPIER WE’LL BE!” In this, I think she is dead on.
Because why do people think they are so much better than animals? Reason? The ability to reason is how my 9th grade teacher Ms. Denize distinguished man from beast, Caliban from Ariel. Which is fair enough. Reason is good. But why, since Genesis was written, has man imagined himself superior to the animals? We gave ourselves God who granted us dominion over them and the earth. Dominion to take care of them? Or to do with what we please? The latter is how we act, it seems. Let me just say, I covet the pre-human Earth. Animals don’t know what time is! Go for a walk in the Redwood trees. Some of them alive since Jesus. Last weekend I paid twelve $ to show my thirteen y.o. bro Muir Woods. He spotted a Barred Owl in a low nearby branch. We watched the bird in silence for twenty minutes, a calm, timeless, animal silence, only disturbed every so often by other woods walkers asking what the heck we’re starin’ at?, and by my own jokes, which then were strokes of genius but now reveal themselves as horrible playing with the idea that even if that owl was not a Spotted owl, by species, it was still, now, nonetheless, a spotted owl, since we spotted it, was I right? Did he get it? He said I was stupid and re-confirmed it was he that spotted, no we involved there. Then we sat in timeless animal silence again for who knows how many minutes because what are minutes in a forest of thousand-year-old beings, until Tommy eventually whispered he wished the owl would swoop and scoop something out of the creek, and, sure enough, not a minute later, owl went a-swooping. Humongous wings. We decided it got a salamander. It took it over there to its spot on the branch. That owl needed to eat, and it did, and it was good, and I longed for something then. How I envy my pre-human ancestors for not having to deal with societal rules and regulations and restaurants. The eat-or-get-eaten wild may seem violent to some people, but to me nature’s seeming indifference to death looks more like an acceptance of it, or a oneness with it, and it seems like peace. Accept the animal, begin the dance, indeed.
So rally now, troops. Raise the call. Time as numbers is a manmade thing. Let’s not let it get in the way. All we have is time. Let’s be patient with each other. Let’s not yawn. Let’s let ourselves take as long as we want.
- Watch friends of Lenore read from her poems to celebrate the release of Collected Poems
- Watch Lenore read assorted poems
- Watch Lenore read and talk about “To Fuck With Love”
- Read a firsthand experience by editor Evan Karp
- Purchase a copy of Collected Poems
Alex Williams writes poems and stories and things. He has lived in D.C. and Maine and Scotland and the Tenderloin District. Now he lives in a cottage in Cole Valley. He serves in the service industry, and also likes to paint and draw.