Happy National Poetry Month Everyone!
There is no better way to honor this month and continue our journey of showing versus telling than through the eyes of wonderful poets. Here to share her personal experiences and expertise is Amy Losak. I am so excited to feature her unique and special publishing journey.
H IS FOR HAIKU
I’ve learned that with picture books, the best creative approach is to “show” more than “tell,” and to leave enough “white space” for the illustrator to complete the story.
In many ways, it’s the same with haiku poetry.
Haiku is the briefest form of poetry, yet arguably the most expansive. It’s delightfully challenging to write, and it takes study, practice, and revision. A lot has to be “packed” into few words, to allow the reader to enter the poem as creative collaborators, and “complete” it. Each word matters.
Sydell Rosenberg’s haiku for children do just this. I view them as stories in miniature –“word-pictures” – so young readers can fill in the ideas and images presented in the words with their own imaginations. And Sawsan Chalabi, the illustrator for H IS FOR HAIKU, also had plenty of room to “play” with these piquant poetic texts. Take note of her approach, which complements the words with visual wit, energy, and joy!
Take this award-winning haiku for example (it was first published in 1968, I believe!):
So pale – it hardly sat
on the outstretched branch
of the winter night.
Over the years, “So pale” has become one of my favorites. It’s tranquil and mysterious – maybe even majestic. This haiku conjures not just a picture of almost other-worldly repose, but a feeling, I hope, of serenity.
What is “it,” exactly? Ah ha – that’s the whole point. Sawsan’s sweet illustration depicts a friendly-faced moon, which is perfect. But “it” could be anything the reader wants to place on that “outstretched” (arm-like?) branch. Could “it” be an owl or another bird – or a squirrel? A cat? Snow? Raindrops? A child? “It” could be any or all these things – and more. There are no limits. There are no wrong answers!
Another old haiku I’ve loved for a long time is:
the cat sits in the fur ring
of his tail, and dreams.
This poem captures a moment in time and place. What has happened earlier to tucker out this sleeping kitty? What “adventures” did he have? Was he gallivanting around outdoors? Or was he inside, observing life through a window from a comfy couch cushion (like our amber-eyed, new young cat, Winnie)? Is he dreaming about his busy day’s antics? What will he do when he awakes? Will his adventures continue? What will they be like?
And is he content? He must be, tucked within the safety of his tail. Indeed, note that “fur ring” rhymes with “purring” – this is a deliberate word choice.
There’s a complete story in this poetic “snapshot” … and it’s one in which readers can have fun figuring out what comes before – and also after. They can make this small moment big!
Syd was a charter member of the Haiku Society of America in 1968 in New York City, and also a teacher. I think she determined pretty early in her haiku writing career that some of her poems would appeal to kids. The language she used is simple but striking (a hallmark of haiku). Her poems are designed to build small worlds for kids to revel in, and they build vocabulary, as well.
My journey to publish mom’s old manuscript (some of which I edited) has been a long and nonlinear one, marked by delays, deviations (some delightful, but others painful), and distractions. She died suddenly in 1996. Her writings had been well-anthologized, and she had a number of accomplishments to be proud of. But her dream to publish a kids’ book – despite several submission attempts – went unfulfilled.
But once I got my act in gear, around 2015, the path to publication was relatively quick! I signed with Penny Candy Books in the latter half of 2016, and H IS FOR HAIKU was released on April 10, 2018 (National Poetry Month).
Along the way, I started to better understand Syd’s restless, and at the same time mindful, approach to life and its daily, sometimes unpredictable, small adventures. When my mom was alive, sadly, I took a lot of her mindset for granted. But I and her loved ones always knew how much her literary life meant to her.
I now write and publish my own short poems – mom’s legacy (and other poets, as well), has conferred this gift. This makes me happy, of course, but it’s the process that is most important. I consider myself an eternal beginner. I always seem to be in a rush, and I’m continually distracted. I am still learning to slow down and linger over little slices of life, so I can enjoy and celebrate them. Each “life-slice” is evanescent and unique. Too quickly, it’s gone forever. There can be magic in those moments, if only we take the time and discipline to notice.
This is the lesson I’ve learned from my mom, and I hope it shines through in H IS FOR HAIKU.
pastel pond …
the iris of her eyes
staring back at me
If you would like to get in touch with Amy:
By Amy Losak; Publication Credits: Read, Learn and be Happy blog, April 17, 2017; They Gave Us Life: Celebrating Mothers, Fathers & Others in Haiku, anthology edited by Robert Epstein, 2017