On May 7, 2009, Dr John Asfour visited the Thursdays writing class at the Carnegie Centre. Dr. Asfour is a Lebanese-Canadian poet, writer, and teacher and is the first writer-in-residence at the Historic Joy Kogawa house. He is the author of four books of poetry in English and two in Arabic. He resides in Montreal, Quebec, where he has taught creative writing for 25 years. He translated the poetry of Muhammad al-Maghut into English under the title Joy Is Not My Profession (Véhicule Press), and he selected, edited and introduced the landmark anthology When the Words Burn: An Anthology of Modern Arabic Poetry, 1945–1987 (Cormorant Books).
During his three month stay at the Historic Kogawa House, which is coming to a close at the end of this month, Dr.Asfour has been at work on a book of poems entitled Blindfold. The book is partly autobiographical—born in Lebanon, Dr.Asfour was blinded at age 13 during the Civil War in 1958. In it Dr.Asfour suggests that the disabled often feel like foreigners in their own land, hampered by prejudice (sometimes well-meaning), communications barriers and the sense of “limited personality” that characterizes the second-language learner.
We began the class with the writing prompt suggested by Dr. Asfour, referencing one of his recent poems about a blind man riding the metro: “A blind man is a national treasure among you, and you are such a great audience.” His wit about his own experience led to a conversation about combining the emotional with the intellectual to capture this moment in time. He then read from his new manuscript, repeating the lines of his work as heard through earphones connected to his computer. We were thrilled to have him with us and very much enjoyed his advice, his jokes and his craft.