The Writers Studio at Simon Fraser University, which sponsors the Thursdays class, received a grant for its second Writers’ Jamboree, scheduled for November 13 and 14, 2009 at the Carnegie Centre. The Jamboree is a two day program of workshops for Downtown Eastside writers with panels of high-level editors and writers offering their thoughts on how to forward one’s writing career. Thank you to Vancity for supporting emerging writers!
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.
The second chapbook class has taken off. We are about a third of the way through; you are welcome to join us, we’ll find extra chairs! So far we’ve touched on “slanguage,” ways of telling, convincing arguments,antiheroes and tension.
For a quick shot of inspiration check out “The Writer’s Book of Wisdom; 101 Rules for Mastering your Craft,” by Steven Taylor Goldsberry (Writer’s Digest Books, 2005) It’s a list of suggestions (Rule #60: Never save your best for last.) that may jog you out of complacency.
Last night, March 12, 2009, five readers from the Thursdays chapbook brought their work to Rhizome cafe in Vancouver. The Writer’s Studio reading series was graciously hosted by Jane Mellor, who welcomed Kazakh poet Akerke Mussabekova, Charlotte Morganti and Clarissa Green to the first half of the bill. John Chen started the Thursdays slate with the shortest poem in the English language, “Life,” pointing out that the two-word poem is a one-word poem in Chinese, with a two-word title. Congratulations to Dr. Chen on the publication of his book “The Influence of Taosim on Asian-Canadian Writers,” (Edwin Mellen Press). James “Man About Town” McLean brought the house down with his wry humour and visual aids, reading his piece, about Lotto Day and handing out the 24 Hours Paper, in full uniform. Joan Morelli’s heartfelt reading of “Pain Street,” and “Day of the Dead,” showcased her performer’s voice and deeply moved the audience. Tom Quirk read new work, saying the class at Carnegie has brought him out of a fallow period. He read an excerpt of a chapter in progress about debauched artists, a hilarious send-up. Elee Kraljii Gardiner read a new poem, also fruit from the Thursdays vine, and was happy to welcome ElJean Dodge to the open mike portion to share a beautiful piece about meadows. In the full audience was Joy Kagawa House Writer-in-Residence John Asfour, who has offered to come speak to the class.
Author Evelyn Lau wrote a beautiful essay in the Vancouver Georgia Strait about her experience returning to the Carnegie Centre to join Simon Fraser Univerity’s Writer’s Studio Jamboree in November 2009. Many of the writers from “thursdays” were at the panel discussion and able to ask Lau her thoughts about writing. Lau commented that she typed her first book on the typewriters at Carnegie in the room that is now the computer lab.
In the Excerpt section you can get a glimpse of the writers’ work. Please feel free to react to, or comment on, the pieces you read in this supportive forum. If you are moved to write a response piece or share some writing of your own, please do so.
The first excerpt was James McLean’s poem “Creative Thinking,” a powerful remembrance of hard times in Scotland in the late 1930s when Mr. McLean was a boy. His reading is emotionally hardhitting; please check back for the accompanying audio file to be posted soon.
Up on the site now is Joan Morelli”s piece, “Pain Street,” a concise portrait of the ups and downs of living along Vancouver’s Main Street.
The chapbook “thursdays: poems and prose from the Downtown Eastside” is a paper reflection of a group of writers that has been meeting every Thursday afternoon at the Carnegie Community Centre on the downtown Eastside of Vancouver.
The word “chapbook” is said to come from the Old English “ceop” for “cheap,” meaning that chapbooks are generally printed affordably by individuals or indie presses. “thursdays:poems and prose from the Downtown Eastside” is a 32 page book with a colour cover, a stapled spine and its own ISBN, meaning it is officially registered with the National Library of Canada. Coming soon: a Paypal feature enabling you to purchase copy on-line.