For 10 years, Azeem Khan went to therapy as a recovery effort for childhood trauma he suffered, but it wasn’t until he sought help from the Alliance for Positive Change in 2013 and discovered poetry writing that he finally began to heal.

“I used to write sentences that never turned into anything, and when I came to the Alliance, I saw creative writing as one of its monthly activities. I went into the room that first day, and my life changed forever,” Khan said. “Sentences I used to write in the past became my healing — the thing that made me feel the light, so to speak.”

Fast-forward five years, and Khan is now poetry leader of the Alliance’s Creative Writing Workshop, whose participants will host their annual poetry reading Thursday at 6 p.m. at the Union Square Barnes & Noble to celebrate National Poetry Month and the release of the 20th edition of the Alliance’s literary magazine, Situations.

Workshop members, who Khan calls “lotus flowers,” will unveil their personal stories of transformation at the reading and in Situations.


“In my culture, lotus flowers are very important flowers, and they start at the bottom of the sea in all the mud and muck, and they push their way through and blossom up to the sun,” the Guyana-born Khan explained. “(Members) come in with so many negative things in their lives, but they work through it with other things the Alliance offers, and they blossom. They’re my lotus flowers.”

Khan, too, has become a lotus flower since he began writing poetry.

“It’s allowed me to have a conversation with my past instead of an argument,” he said. “When you suffer trauma, it plays in your head, and it’s like you start to argue in your own mind. With poetry, I got to put it on paper, see these words and understand these words and connect with other people in the group, and I think that’s very important.”

Khan has “truly flourished” as poetry leader, said Sharen Duke, Alliance executive director and CEO.

“The poetry created in Alliance’s Creative Writing Workshop gives voice to the struggles, resilience and hope that many of our program participants face every day,” she said. “(Azeem) shares his passion, sensitivity and tenacity with the group, creating a community where poetry becomes a path to healing and positive change.”

But to Khan, he’s simply giving back.

“It is my chance to give back to the group what I got from the group,” he said. “I actually wrote a poem called ‘Lighthouse’ in my first Situations five years ago, how I’m now going to be a lighthouse to guide the ships into safety, where I am.” 

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