Daughter fulfills late mother’s dream with Haiku children’s book

“H is For Haiku: A Treasury of Haiku From A to Z,” is written by Sydell Rosenberg and illustrated by Sawsan Chalabi.
Courtesy of Amy Losak
By Carlotta Mohamed

A new book by a late Queens teacher gives a career’s worth of poetry life with Haikus accompanied by vibrant illustrations.

Sydell Rosenberg wrote “H is For Haiku: A Treasury of Haiku From A to Z,” with illustrations by Lebanese-American Sawsan Chalabi. The book was published by Penny Candy Books in April, during National Poetry Month. It can be purchased on Amazon.com for $13.35, or from Penny Candy Books’ website.

The book is a labor of love, published with the help of Rosenberg’s daughter.

“When she died and we were at the funeral, my sister-in-law turned to me and said ‘somehow we’re going to get your mom’s book done… we’re going to get it published,’” said Amy Losak, who honored her late mother’s legacy by getting the book published.

Sydell Rosenberg was a Queens teacher, writer, and poet whose work was anthologized and published in a number of journals during a literary career that spanned decades.

Rosenberg lived in Briarwood and taught in several New York City public schools, including PS 99 in Kew Gardens, Losak said. Before she died in 1996, just a few months shy of turning 67, it was her lifelong dream to publish her manuscript filled with children’s Haiku — a Japanese poem of 17 syllables, in three lines of five, seven, and five, traditionally evoking images of the natural world.

“Some of Mom’s short poems, which celebrate life’s small moments, were inspired by her life as a Queens resident and as a New Yorker,” said Losak. “And some of these simple but striking poems were published decades ago.”

Rosenberg’s Haiku poems make references to Queens:

“Queuing for ice cream —

Sweat sprinkled office workers

on Queens Boulevard”

One of Losak’s favorite poems from the book include:

“Adventure’s over

The cat sits in the fur ring

of his tail and dreams

“Mom knew her Haiku, she studied and wrote this brief but challenging and endlessly evocative poetic form for decades,” Losak said. “She even studied Japanese in order to try and read the masters in their original language.”

Rosenberg was one of the first charter members of the Haiku Society of America, a non-profit organization founded in 1968 to promote the writing and appreciation of Haiku poetry in English, a group Losak remains a member of today. Membership is open to all readers, writers and students of Haiku.

Grieving the loss of her mother, whom she called her “best friend,” it took some time for Losak to sift through her mother’s manuscripts. She began writing Haiku herself to understand how her mother felt. In 2011, she started the process of gathering the poems and reaching out to publishers and organizations.

Throughout the process, she participated in poetry readings of her mother’s work at the Queens Botanical Garden and connected with the non-profit organization Arts For All, which offers artistic opportunities to city public school students.

Losak said her mother’s selection of “word picture” Haiku has been used at schools in the Bronx and Long Island City to teach art, painting, drawing, collage and music in second-grade classrooms. After a couple of setbacks and receiving rejections from publishers for her mother’s book, Losak signed a contract with an independent children’s book company, Penny Candy, in October 2016.

“‘H is For Haiku’ is my gift to my mother,” said Losak. “But more importantly, I want this book to be a delight for young readers and the adults in their lives.”

Losak will be doing a poetry event at Kew and Willow Books located at 81-63 Lefferts Blvd, Kew Gardens, July 7 at 2 p.m. She hopes to conduct readings at several Queens libraries, such as the central branch in Jamaica and the Briarwood branch.

Reach reporter Carlotta Mohamed by e-mail at cmohamed@cnglocal.com or by phone at (718) 260–4526.

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