Haiku poet Sydell Rosenberg finds a place in cyberspace
at <http://sydellpoetry.com> thanks to her daughter's passion to share her art.
Amy Losak sent me an email last year after reading an interview I did with Penny Harter who is part of the team with her husband, William J. Higginson, that published "The Haiku Handbook." That book, which came out in a 25 year anniversary edition in 2010, has certainly lived up to its name. Anyone with a love for haiku eventually finds their way to the handbook. Losak's mom, Sydell Rosenberg, loved haiku. She was a charter member of the HSA and her work even made it into the seminal publication. According to Losak, her mom always tried to share her love for the art with her daughter. But it wasn't until she lost her mom that she started to take notice of her mom's dedication to the small poems.
"Her haiku and senryu are compact and concise—and yet highly evocative—visual "snapshots" of moments in time in nature, urban life and relationships; many of these short pictorial poems are perfect for children who are learning to engage with and interpret the world around them in creative ways," said Losak in an email.
She went on to say that it was her mom's wish to publish an A-B-C haiku reader for children. One time her mom "even had the guts to write to Maurice Sendak proposing a collaboration!" But she didn't get to fulfill her dream of publishing a haiku picture book for kids. That was why Losak had emailed me. She's been trying to help her mom fulfill her goal posthumously, but not just in book form. Losak has been working with teachers and artists to share her mom's vision of what haiku can offer kids. With her husband's help, a website, Facebook page and Twitter feed have also been made.
Here's a haiku written by her Sydell Rosenberg:
So pale—it hardly sat
on the outstretched branch
of the winter night.
"Mom's word choice is precise—and deliberate in its ambiguity: 'It' can mean or be almost anything. The first thing that may come to mind is the moon, of course—but 'it' could be a bird: a hawk, an owl, a sparrow, a blackbird, for example. Or 'it' can refer to a squirrel or a cat, or a bear—or another branch or a twig. 'It' can be raindrops or snow. 'It' can even be the setting sun at dusk—why not? And the 'outstretched branch'? I can see it as an extended arm with the hand holding—encircling—whatever the reader has decided what 'it' is," she wrote.
I loved her enthusiasm, and of course, the poem wasn't bad either. So I agreed to do an interview and help Losak with her goal of spreading her mother's gift to others.
Q: Did your mom read haiku to you as a kid?
A: Actually, no, I don't remember my mom . . . reading haiku to me, or to my brother, Nathan, when we were children. She may not have become immersed in the world of haiku until I was older, around 10 or 12 . . . When I was a teenager and as an adult, my mom would share new haiku she had written and sometimes ask for my feedback and opinion. I think she wanted me to be her first audience—a kind of critical filter, in a constructive way. I confess that I wasn't always responsive, nor was I always overly encouraging—at least, not often enough. Perhaps I'm being too hard on myself, but looking back, I fear I didn't always take her work seriously, although I think I always knew there was something special about her—indeed, she was a little bit kooky (I say this with love).
I regret now that I didn't show my appreciation more often—at least, more openly. I wish I had done more to let her know how much I appreciated her. When she died suddenly as a result of an aortic aneurysm in 1996, it was a shocking wake up call. I—my family—had lost a truly artistic soul. Her poetic eye was exceptional.
Q: What were your memories of haiku?
A: I remember that my mom always seemed to be writing, always studying, always learning. She took the art of haiku seriously. It was her joy, and it was omnipresent in our household. It seemed as though she was always mailing out haiku to journals, and entering contests. It seemed as though every day, she couldn't wait to get the mail to find out if a poem had been accepted for publication. She even saved a lot of her rejection letters!
Q: You are putting a lot of time into sharing your mom's work. What do you think haiku offers kids?
A: I know that years ago, my mom wanted to create an illustrated haiku A-B-C reader for kids, a picture book to teach them the alphabet. I know that my mom once wrote to the great Maurice Sendak, proposing a collaboration. I took her ideas a step further. It was my brainstorm to pair haiku with kid-created art—at least, I think it was. I know I'm over-simplifying, but I view haiku as "word-pictures." They are precise and concise, yet endlessly evocative. A random but astute observation, written down, can capture worlds. Haiku are open to interpretation and at the same time, they get to the point. Haiku stimulates the imagination but requires discipline as well. Children can use haiku as tools or catalysts for visual self-expression, but also for so much more. I think haiku—because of their short format—can also cultivate a love of wordplay and metaphor. Haiku can help teach or even inspire kids to "see"—that is, connect them with the daily wonders of life on so many levels.
Q: Tell me about the website your husband made. And there's Twitter and a Facebook page as well?
A: The new website, <http://www.sydellpoetry.com> was designed by my husband, Cliff, as a birthday present for me . . . He created the Twitter account and Facebook page as well. These sites will evolve, with more haiku and other content. The website is a work in progress. I also may take an iPad art class so I can illustrate her work myself—and perhaps produce a digital book for children. Meanwhile, I am thrilled to have these digital destinations for my mom's haiku—an online presence for her. This is my tribute to my mom, many years after her death in 1996. I think she would have marveled at the possibilities of all of this! And she probably would have jotted down her impressions as haiku or senryu!
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