Dog Bites

Block That Metaphor!
Alan Kaufman, the poet/spoken-word promoter who ran the monthly readings at Borders on Union Square, has been dumped by the bookstore after going public with a dispute over whether poets could use a microphone. Or, as Kaufman believes, whether Borders could control the content of what was being miked.

The fracas arose after September's reading, during which local Poetry Slam winner Russell Gonzaga uttered some verses pertaining to sex and Christianity that raised a few eyebrows among shoppers (prompting one Borders employee to turn off Gonzaga's mike). After the incident, Elizabeth Sutherland, assistant community relations coordinator, announced that the poetry readings would continue, but without amplification. ("It has nothing to do with censorship," Sutherland said. "It is a volume issue. ... You cannot inconvenience customers.") When Kaufman insisted on the mike -- he maintains the poets would have to yell to be heard in Borders' cafe, where the readings were held -- the store's general manager, Lynn Yazzolino, unplugged his contract.

"Unfortunately [Kaufman] turned it around to an issue of censorship," Yazzolino relates, "rather than letting us have control of our business operation." The poetry readings continue uncensored and open to all who sign up, Yazzolino emphasizes. (They've been moved, however, to the store's third-floor "amphitheater," which Yazzolino describes as "more intimate" than the cafe; microphones remain banned.) Kaufman points out the rather unpoetic irony of the corporation's recent $50,000 pledge to the National Endowment for the Arts. In announcing the award, a Borders bigwig in Ann Arbor, Mich. (where the company is headquartered), praised the NEA for its support of literature programs, as well as the free-speech issues it engages. Kaufman can't help linking "this in-house gag order" at the San Francisco Borders to the NEA gift. "I think it's ominous," he says.

Race Matters
Willie Brown says Frank Jordan is playing on racial fears in his quest for re-election. "He's playing the race card, and he'll continue to," Brown says. A damning allegation, but one that has more than a shred of credibility to it. Why else would Jordan write an unusual letter to Sunset residents seeking witnesses to the black-on-white killing in the city's bastion of white conservatives? Jordan says he was only responding to community requests for help in catching the man who killed Patrick Hourican, a popular Irish-American carpenter from the neighborhood.

But consider Brown's theory: Jordan needs to shore up his conservative base, which includes the Sunset. So he draws attention to a black-on-white crime and steps to the plate for the community as it tries to track down the black killer. The subtext: Beware of blacks. The desired result: Conservative whites who harbor less than enlightened views on race will think about Jordan and Hourican and the black killer when they step into the voting booth and reject the black candidate.

Jordan's press secretary, Staci Walters, rejects Brown's argument. "They are trying to rerun the Art Agnos campaign of 1991," she says, referring to the former mayor's attempt to demonize Jordan as a rabid right-winger in the last election. "It didn't work for Agnos, and it isn't going to work for Brown."

All the same, the attention the killing has received -- with the mayor's help -- has fanned racism west of Twin Peaks. "I heard it with my relatives who live out there when they talked about the case," says Public Defender Jeff Brown. "They were real angry, and always bubbling underneath the surface of their conversation was the n-word."

By John Sullivan, George Cothran

 
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