Tuesday, April 17, 2018

Haiku Garden: Sydell Rosenberg (Giveaway!)

Lily Pond, Central Park, New York City, by David McSpadden

It's been far too long since we last visited the Haiku Garden at Today's Little Ditty. Seeing that today is International Haiku Poetry Day, we're going to remedy that!

I'm delighted to welcome Amy Losak for a very special guest post.

Amy Losak is a full time public relations professional with a spare time passion for writing short-form poetry, especially haiku and senryu. She has been published in numerous haiku journals, and you can also read a sampling of her work online (here and here). Today, however, she will not be sharing her own work. She's here to share the poetry of her mother, Sydell Rosenberg (1929-1996).

Amy has spent the last several years on a personal mission to organize and assemble her mother's work into a picture book for children—something her mother always dreamed of doing. Those efforts to revive and preserve her mother's literary legacy have finally been realized in H IS FOR HAIKU: A TREASURY OF HAIKU FROM A TO Z, published this month by Penny Candy Books with amusing and lively illustrations by Sawsan Chalabi.

I'm going to hand this space over to Amy now to fill us in.

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I’ve been writing haiku and senryu for a few years now. I should have started learning about these poetic forms years ago. I had a wonderful haijin – haiku poet – in my life, who could have taught and guided me. We could have learned together. Perhaps we would have collaborated.

That haiku poet was my mother, Sydell Rosenberg, a teacher and writer.

Syd was a charter member of the Haiku Society of America in New York City in 1968, and also served as HSA secretary in 1975. She published her first haiku in 1967, I believe in a journal entitled American Haiku. She wrote and published her short poems (and other poetry besides, as well as short stories, literary and word puzzles; and more) over a roughly thirty-year span (but she had been writing since childhood). And she studied these forms quite seriously. I remember that she studied Japanese in order to try to read the original masters.

Mom, a product of New York, referred to her short poems as “city haiku” in the classic 1974 text, The Haiku Anthology (edited by Cor van den Heuvel). Many of them indeed reflect her urban surroundings and sensibility—

From H is for Haiku by Sydell Rosenberg, illustrated by Sawsan Cholabi.
(Click image to enlarge.)

a lot are populated with pigeons, sparrows and squirrels, for example! But they also have an appealing air of timelessness and universality.

When I was a young woman, mom tried to engage me in her work. With her encouragement, I even wrote a haiku or two myself as a child (one was about a frightened chipmunk, if I remember correctly), but overall, I was mostly disinterested. She would ask for my feedback. Regrettably, I wasn’t very responsive. I don’t even recall if the poems she wanted me to read were drafts or finished.

But mom and her “haiku mind”—her way of seeing a kind of magic in the stuff of daily life—must have exerted a subtle influence on me that I didn’t realize or understand at the time.

I know that, among other literary goals, mom wanted to publish a children’s book, preferably a haiku alphabet reader. She started submitting at least one manuscript in the 1980s, perhaps earlier, to publishers.

After mom died in 1996, her family decided to pick up and fulfill her dream.

This didn’t happen right away. I wasn’t ready. But slowly, I began to mobilize.

H is for Haiku: A Treasury of Haiku from A to Z
Sydell Rosenberg, Sawsan Chalabi
Penny Candy Books (April 10, 2018)
ISBN: 978-0998799971
Amazon.com, Barnes & Noble, Indiebound.org
And as I sorted through vast piles of Syd’s papers and other materials and reacquainted myself with her poetry, almost naturally, I started to write haiku and senryu of my own. I also started to read the work of terrific haijin from around the world (thanks to the connectivity of social media). My poems were terrible! However, her influence finally became clear. I even joined the Haiku Society of America (which turns 50 this year) and found the Haiku Foundation to be another great resource.

H is for Haiku: A Treasury of Haiku from A to Z  has been a long journey filled with both joy and pain. This book is about the “bigness” in the so-called “small moments” we may be too busy or distracted to notice. The poems are word-pictures or tiny stories, some of them infused with gentle humor. Everyone will, I hope, relate to them.

I have several favorites in this collection, but one I keep coming back to is:

So pale – it hardly sat
    on the outstretched branch
        of the winter night.

“So pale” was published in haiku journals three times: in 1968 and in 1975 in Haiku West; and in the December, 1996 issue of Frogpond, the journal of HSA, on mom’s memorial page. Over time, I have warmed to the lightness of this poem. It has a subtle sense of serenity, of mystery. I especially like that mom doesn’t specify what “it” is—she leaves this for the reader. In the book, Sawsan interprets “it” as a friendly moon. But “it” can be almost anything the reader wants to imagine.

From H is for Haiku by Sydell Rosenberg, illustrated by Sawsan Cholabi, used with permission.

I will always be new to haiku, and that’s fine. I am taking my time as I cultivate my own “haiku mind,” my own “eye” and “voice.” I hope to keep improving as a poet, because this is the best way I can think of to honor Syd’s loving influence, and continue to be the steward of her legacy. It’s also a lovely way for me to slow down my often frantic pace and find bits of magic in my daily life. I hope readers will be inspired to haiku, too.

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Thank you for sharing your journey with us, Amy, and your mother's exceptional work. You must be so proud of what you've accomplished, and we all are better off for you having done so.

Sneak a few more peeks at H is for Haiku at the blogs of Sylvia Vardell, Robyn Hood Black, and Matt Forrest Esenwine; and many thanks to Penny Candy Books for offering a copy to one lucky reader!

Leave a comment below for a chance to win a copy of H is for Haiku: A Treasury of Haiku from A to Z courtesy of Penny Candy Books. Alternatively, you may send an email to TodaysLittleDitty (at) gmail (dot) com with the subject "H is for Haiku giveaway." Entries must be received by Wednesday, April 25, 2018. The winner will be selected randomly and announced on Friday, April 27th.

Tomorrow (Wednesday, April 18th) is the last day to enter the giveaway for Amy Ludwig VanDerwater's latest collection of poems for young readers, With My Hands: Poems About Making Things, courtesy of Clarion Books/HMH. Read the post and giveaway details HERE.

Besides being International Haiku Poetry Day, today is also the official book birthday of Deborah Bruss and Matt Forrest Esenwine's Don't Ask a Dinosaur (POW! Kids). Yes, we've got a giveaway for that one too! Read about our month-long celebration HERE. 


  1. Congrats again to Amy, for finally seeing the fruits of her labors - I'm very happy for her (and her mom!) that people can now enjoy this book.

  2. I shared this wonderful book yesterday, a marvelous book for all readers, but I bet kids will most love it, lively words and illustrations, too. No need to put me in the drawing, Michelle. Thanks for a great post about H is for Haiku!

  3. Amy, I've been writing haiku for about 20 years and I, too, will always be new to haiku.

  4. I can't wait to read this book. I love Haiku and it's challenge as well as beauty.

  5. I love how this book came together, and I can't wait to see it.

  6. Michelle! You are turning into the queen of giveaways....I love it. I've read all of the interviews with Amy cited here and I enjoy each one. I especially like how she has found her mother's voice. In this interview, I like how haiku that she's heard before, possibly many times, are word stories that she "warms to." I love Syd and Amy's story. Thanks for sharing it here, today.

  7. I can see why Amy loves "so pale." Beautiful! The line "I will always be new to haiku, and that’s fine" sounds like a true poet. Amy is a wonderful steward of Syd's legacy.

  8. Michelle, Thanks for this feature and for the link to my blog, "Read, Learn, and Be Happy." I think Amy is much too modest about her haiku abilities. Here's to _H is for Haiku_!

  9. Yes, poetry does help us "find bits of magic in [our] daily life." Thank you for sharing those bits of magic in this lovely post, Michelle and Amy!

  10. I am far behind.
    Playing catch-up, learning of
    this tremendous book.


  11. Nice haikus... Sharing a Haiku for Dante Alighieri in youtube https://youtu.be/HPqfvnqx3Gk
    Readalso an Interview with Dante Alighieri (imaginary) in http://stenote.blogspot.com/2017/12/an-interview-with-dante.html