Late Bloomer: Amy Losak on “H is For Haiku” & preserving her mother’s legacy

Late Bloomers defy age stereotypes and help show us the way to tap into our creativity using life experience, energy and positive attitudes.

“Creativity keeps us fresh, keeps us alive, keeps us moving forward.”

Rollo May, psychotherapist and author of Courage to Create.

Guest post by Amy Losak

Back in my careless and sometimes self-absorbed childhood and young womanhood, it never occurred to me that one day I would be writing short poetry—haiku and senryu – like my mother, Sydell Rosenberg. If anyone had told me at the time that I would follow in Syd’s footsteps, I probably would have laughed.

As a youngster, I didn’t have the capacity to focus with a sense of wonder on my daily surroundings or try to make something special out of my observations and impressions. I did dabble a little, but eventually indifference won out and I stopped. I loved words, reading and the arts, but I lacked an ability to mine those small moments. Syd had this gift, and she avidly cultivated it.

But I’m much older now. I’m within a few years of my mom’s sudden death in her mid-60s, and for the past several years I’ve been writing haiku. No one is more surprised than I. And Syd, wherever she is, must be wide-eyed with surprise. I hope she is pleased with my efforts to honor her and preserve her literary legacy. My life has been enriched in unexpected ways.

illustration in “H is for Haiku”

Syd was a New York City teacher and published writer and poet. Mom studied and wrote haiku for decades. In 1968, she became a charter member of the Haiku Society of America in NY. She also wrote and published other poetry, short stories, word puzzles and literary. Even in my disinterest years ago, I and others who loved mom knew how much her writing meant to her.

Syd’s death, on the morning of October 11, 1996, was a horrifying shock, a wake-up call to life’s unexpected, often cruel turns. And in retrospect, it turned out to be a call for action. As we were leaving her funeral, I remember my sister-in-law Debbie saying that somehow we would publish the children’s poetry book Syd had long wanted. We would find a way to realize her dream.

Over time, it dawned on me that I would have to do this. I was terrified to the point of paralysis. The grief that gripped me over our loss compounded my fear and lack of self-confidence. It became my enemy.

The ups and downs of daily life inevitably got in the way – finding care for our dad Sam, who suffered from dementia; closing up their apartment, starting a new job as a healthcare public relations executive, moving, etc., all kept me from getting started. As the years flowed by, the knowledge that time might be running out weighed on me. It became its own burden, to be honest.

Around 2011, I finally began to organize, in my own haphazard way. As a PR executive with years of experience, I’m used to generating program ideas and creative collaborations. So I brainstormed ways to revive mom’s work for today’s audiences, especially children.

Illustration in “H is for Haiku”

I established a rewarding partnership with a fabulous New York City nonprofit, Arts For All , to develop programs using some of mom’s haiku to teach the basics of art, music, and theater. I’ve also worked with the Poets House, the Queens Botanical Garden, the Children’s Museum of the Arts — all in NYC.

But a children’s book was always the ultimate goal, and the ticking of the clock has been relentless. I debated self-publishing versus a traditional publisher and decided to shoot for the latter. At last, in April of 2015, I began mailing out a version of mom’s old picture book manuscripts I had titled, H Is For Haiku: A Treasury of Haiku from to A to Z.

Of course, I received no feedback at all or rejections. Some of the rejections were kind, even complimentary. In 2016, thanks to a haiku editor and poet, Aubrie Cox Warner, I learned about Penny Candy Books, a wonderful new independent press founded by two poets, Chad Reynolds and Alexis Orgera.

Penny Candy Books loved mom’s simple but striking style her way of celebrating small moments in daily life. H Is For Haikugorgeously illustrated by Sawsan Chalabi, was released April 2018– almost 22 years after mom’s death.

Along this long and daunting journey to revive my mom’s legacy, something kind of marvelous happened — I started to slow down and pay attention to small moments. I began to write my own short poetry. I’m learning from the work of other fine poets, and I’m growing.

I am an eternal beginner, which is just fine. It’s the process that matters most (though I’m proud to say that some of my micro-poetry has been published). Writing haiku has bolstered my confidence and helped me to believe that I’m “doing right” by my mother – and by young audiences. I’m grateful for the support of a legion of people: my husband Cliff and family, friends and colleagues; poets, children’s authors, teachers, librarians – many people.

Amy Losak

I’ve learned that it’s never too late to pursue a dream – but you can’t always wait for the perfect moment to start. This rarely happens. At some point, you have to take the first steps, come what may. Now that H Is For Haiku is out in the world – where I hope it brings joy to young readers and the adults in their lives — I’m thinking about a second poetry picture book, one that combines Syd’s haiku and my own. We will see what blooms next!

 

Some of Amy Losak’s own haiku poetry

(The first one is written in the old “traditional” syllabic format of 5/7/5. The others are not. Today’s English-language haiku are no longer regularly written using a total of 17 syllables.)

 

Awake in deep night

a black cat’s body tenses …

somewhere, a cricket.

 

sun-clock …

my day unwinds

with low-flying sparrows

 

breeze on my face …

I let go the weight

of the world

     Late Bloomers are guest blog posts sharing thoughts and insights from individuals who have launched notable creative efforts in the arts in their Third Age.

Thank you so much Amy!

(For further resources, see books Secrets to Becoming a Late Bloomer: Extraordinary ordinary people on the art of staying creative, alive and aware in mid-life and beyond by Connie Goldman & Richard Mahler; The Creative Age: Awakening Human Potential in the Second Half of Life by Gene D. Cohen M.D.; What Should I Do with the Rest of My Life by Bruce Frankel.)

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4 Responses to Late Bloomer: Amy Losak on “H is For Haiku” & preserving her mother’s legacy

  1. Thank you for this moving reflection, Amy. You’ve done right by your mom, right by yourself, and right by the rest of us. If only we could grasp these fundamentals when we are younger. Perhaps this is the best time. There must be a haiku about late blooming!

  2. Amy Losak says:

    Thanks so much, Cynthia. In fact, a haiku poet and editor of haiku/short-form poetry anthologies, Dr. Robert Epstein, is coming out with a new one around the theme of aging. It will probably be available later this year on Amazon. I have submitted some of my work, and also my mom’s … we will see! And I agree. It’s never to late to learn to see in new and fresh ways.

  3. Amy Losak says:

    Cynthia, thanks so much for your kind words of support. And thanks to Lindsey for the opportunity to share my story in this terrific forum.

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