GUEST POST: The Story Behind H IS FOR HAIKU with Amy Losak

H is for HaikuPlease join me in welcoming special guest Amy Losak, as she shares the story behind a delightful new poetry collection for young readers, H Is For Haiku: A Treasury of Haiku from A to Z, written by her late mother, Sydell Rosenberg and published this past April with Penny Candy Books. How this collection came to be is a wonderful story – that involves poetry, hard work, determination and the special bond between mother and daughter.  Thank you so much for sharing this book’s unusual journey, Amy. It is an honor to have you on the blog today.  Take it away!

H Is For Haiku: A Treasury of Haiku from A to Z, by Sydell Rosenberg and Sawsan Chalabi (Penny Candy Books), came to be, is both simple and complicated:

 Syd is my mother. She died in 1996. Syd was a teacher in New York City and a published writer. Sometime in the 1960s, she developed an interest in haiku poetry. Somehow, it “found” her – and it was, I think, the expressive outlet which mom had  been searching for. (In her bio in the 1974 classic text, The Haiku Anthology, edited by Cor van den Heuvel and published by Anchor Doubleday, mom described haiku as “unfussy” but “demanding.”)

 Early on, she set out to learn as much as she could. In 1968, the Haiku Society of America (hsa-haiku.org) was formed, and mom became a charter member. (It exists today — and I’m now a member, too.)

 At some point in the 1970s or 1980s, mom developed a strong desire to create a poetry picture book. She created more than one manuscript from her individual poems, some of which had been previously published in journals. I remember that she wanted her book to be an alphabet reader, and my memory tells me that she even wanted children to be the illustrators.

 So the seeds for the book that became H Is For Haiku were planted early. That’s the simple part of the story.

 The complicated part is this: Mom, like most of us, had a busy life: she earned her Masters of Arts in 1972, taught both as a substitute and as an adult ESL teacher. She wrote constantly, and a good amount of her poetry (haiku and other forms) and other writings were published. She submitted at least one of her kids’ poetry manuscripts to some publishers, but they were rejected.

 In her later years, life became stressful and sad for mom. When my much-older father was diagnosed with dementia (and other ills), her creative and literary life didn’t come to a screeching halt, but her passions were put on the back burner. Mom became a caregiver to my dad. She had help, but it was still an extraordinarily difficult time. Those years took their toll in terrible ways on both her body and psyche. Her death at home one morning was sudden, shocking, and unexpected. Although now, when I look back on her suffering, I realize that perhaps her end was inevitable. She was defiant, in her way, but she had become worn out. She couldn’t keep going that way any longer.

 At mom’s funeral in 1996, her family resolved to try and publish the picture book she had long dreamed of. 

 Finally, decades later — after much procrastination and tentative fits and starts — I took loving steps to finish what mom had started. And I succeeded, thanks to the unerring and unending support of many people who have warmly embraced my efforts and the result.

In 2016, I connected with Penny Candy Books (pennycandybooks.com). The principals, Chad Reynolds and Alexis Orgera, who are poets themselves, saw the possibilities in mom’s simple, striking “word-picture” poems. Our visions were similar. The illustrator, Sawsan Chalabi (Schalabi.com), has a style that is vigorous and full of joy. Her art and lettering help make the poems pop!

Haiku Library 2

Courtesy of Penny Candy Books

 H Is For Haiku was released this past April: National Poetry Month. It’s our dream come true. But more importantly, I hope mom’s book, which celebrates a collection of small moments in our daily lives we may overlook, will bring bits of magic to young readers, and the adults in their lives.

 And thanks to mom, I now write and even publish my own haiku. Who knows – maybe the second picture book will be a combination of both our work. We will see!

Thank you, Amy, for sharing your story.  Interested readers can pick up a copy of H Is For Haiku: A Treasury of Haiku from A to Z, by Sydell Rosenberg and Sawsan Chalabi (Penny Candy Books) at your favorite local or online bookstore.  Happy reading!

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