THE STORY BEHIND THE STORY: H IS FOR HAIKU by Amy Losak
The journey to the publication of H Is For Haiku: A Treasury of Haiku from A to Z , started from a tragic occasion in my family: my mother Sydell Rosenberg’s sudden death from an aortic aneurysm one beautiful October morning in 1996.
As we were leaving the cemetery in Queens, NY, my sister-in-law, Debbie Rosenberg (married to my younger brother, Natha), said (I’m paraphrasing): “We will publish the children’s poetry book she always wanted.”
And thus began the road that took decades for me to walk. That road was anything but linear or smooth.
Syd was a teacher in NY and a published writer. More than anything, I think, she loved haiku. She was a charter member of the nonprofit Haiku Society of America in 1968 (https://www.hsa-haiku.org/) , an organization I belong to today. She studied, practiced, and wrote haiku for years, and just about up until the day she died.
Mom always wanted to publish a poetry picture book, preferably an alphabet reader. She had created a couple of manuscripts (not all are haiku), and I know she submitted them to publishers. Somewhere among her piles of papers and materials, I have some rejection letters she kept.
When she died, I became paralyzed with grief, depression, and fear. The messy ups and downs of life interfered, including having to figure out care for our father, Sam Rosenberg, who suffered from dementia. But I also allowed them to interfere with realizing her dream. They became my “excuse” for procrastination and inaction.
It took years to tackle my severe emotional inertia, thanks to a terrific therapist, as well as loving family, friends, colleagues, and writers.
Around 2011, I also became acutely aware that time was not on my side. I was now middle-aged. The burden of the goal Debbie had expressed in the cemetery was almost crushing.
Still afraid, but with some determination, I finally undertook a number of projects to revive some of mom’s haiku for kids. I took small steps. I stumbled and backtracked and fell along the way, but I also made progress. It was hard work and sometimes painful -- but I also had fun, to my surprise. I enjoyed my endeavors and coming up with creative ideas.
In 2016, thanks to a haiku acquaintance, Aubrie Cox Warner, (https://kattywompuspress.com/shop/books-and-chapbooks/out-of-translation-by-aubrie-cox/), I learned about a new independent children’s publisher, Penny Candy Book (https://www.pennycandybooks.com). Penny Candy was started by two poets, Chad Reynolds and Alexis Orgera. They were looking for a variety of fresh voices. They didn’t require agent representation. I subbed one of mom’s old manuscripts I had edited. On October 31, 2016, I signed the contract!
On April 10, 2018 – during National Poetry Month – H Is For Haiku was released. The vivid lettering and illustrations are by the extraordinary Sawsan Chalabi (https://www.schalabi.com). I wrote the introduction. Syd’s and my decades-old dream had at last come true.
Each haiku in this collection is like a little story, reveling in the small moments that make up our daily lives. The National Council for Teachers of English honored it as a 2019 “Notable Poetry Book.” It also was shortlisted for a 2018 poetry “Cybils” award.
I am not finished with our journey or reaching for dreams. In 2020, mom’s poetry chapbook, Poised Across the Sky, was released (https://kattywompuspress.com/shop/books-and-chapbooks/poised-across-the-sky-by-sydell-rosenberg/)
I have a second haiku picture book out on submission. This one combines both our work. I’m excited. We will see what happens!
I also have three of Syd’s short stories out to literary magazines.
And I’m pleased and proud to be a member of an extraordinary group of women who write children’s books with Jewish topics, themes, and values. The Book Meshuggenahs website is chock-full of resources, such as coloring pages, activities, and teacher guides. We even held a “chai-ku” contest last year, and received some lovely haiku entries highlighting aspects of Jewish culture and customs. We are conducting a second contest this year too! Please see our website for submission details and prizes, as well aslast year’s winners (deadline: May 31).Along this circuitous road, I learned how to slow down and linger over the little things we may overlook, but make our lives special. I am deeply grateful to many kind people who have helped me find this gift – including, of course, my mom – and gave me the support I needed to attain our dream.
I hope everyone has a haiku 2021, filled with bits of magic!
Amy Losak is an experienced public relations professional specializing in healthcare media relations.
Thanks to her mother Sydell Rosenberg’s literary influence, Amy writes and publishes her own haiku today. Her publications include Acorn, Akitsu Quarterly, Autumn Moon Haiku Journal, brass bell: a haiku journal, Failed Haiku, Frameless Sky, Frogpond (the journal of the Haiku Society of America), Hedgerow, The Heron’s Nest, Modern Haiku, Newtown Literary, Tinywords, Prune Juice; and more.
Amy’s and Syd’s work are also featured in several recent anthologies, such as All the Way Home: Aging in Haiku (edited by Robert Epstein; Amazon), behind the mask: haiku in the time of Covid-19 (edited by Margaret Dornaus; Amazon), and Another Trip Around the Sun: 365 Days of Haiku for Children Young and Old (edited by Jessica Malone Latham; http://www.brooksbookshaiku.com/Latham-AnotherTrip.html)
Syd’s senryu (short and often wry poems about human nature) are featured in The Poetry of US: More than 200 poems that celebrate the people, places, and passions of the United States (edited by J. Patrick Lewis, former Children’s Poet Laureate; Amazon)
• H Is For Haiku lesson article:
H Is For Haiku from Penny Candy Books is available everywhere.