Making Small Moments “Big” With Haiku by Amy Losak
The form called haiku makes for perfect “pocket poetry.” It’s the briefest form of poetry, yet arguably the most expansive. It is deceptively simple, and it is layered and rich. And it’s about so much more than merely counting syllables! As I like to say, haiku poetry helps make so-called small moments in our daily lives “big.” To write haiku is to involve the use of all our senses to slow down and observe our surroundings — with both focus and flow. To me, it’s poetic mindfulness.
In April of 2018, I shepherded my late mom Sydell Rosenberg’s picture book manuscript to publication. Syd was a teacher in New York City and a charter member of the Haiku Society of America in 1968 (hsa-haiku.org), which exists today. A number of her poems (not just haiku), short stories, literary and word puzzles, and other works were published over her literary career. But she had long wanted to publish a poetry book for kids. More than 20 years after her death in 1996, H Is For Haiku: A Treasury of Haiku from A to Z, was released in April of 2018 by Penny Candy Books (pennycandybooks.com; illustrator: Sawsan Chalabi, Schalabi.com). Penny Candy Books was started by two poets, Chad Reynolds and Alexis Orgera, and I’m so grateful that they and Sawsan shared my vision for mom’s poems.
Mom was, in some ways, a restless soul. Haiku helped her to channel that restlessness and desire for adventure. Its very brevity gave her, paradoxically, the latitude she was looking for to express herself in a creative and meaningful way. This form challenged and motivated her in ways I have finally come to understand.
A number of the haiku in H Is For Haiku were first published in journals and other media decades ago, but they are timeless, relatable, and fresh today. Many have an urban sensibility. And while they capture moments in time, young readers can imagine what comes before and after the moments depicted in her words. For example, take this lovely one:
the cat sits in the fur ring
of his tail, and dreams.
Readers can have fun building a story in miniature around this sweet moment of a cat peacefully sleeping, after his rollicking day, in the circle of his tail. They can ask and answer the following questions:
- Why is this cat so tired?
- Did his adventures take place indoors or outside?
- What kind of adventures did he have?
- What is he dreaming about?
- What will he do when he awakens from his nap?
This moment, which is so homey and “ordinary,” invites curiosity and reflection, and evokes a feeling of contentment. After all, “fur ring” rhymes with “purring” – which is intentional.
Here’s another one:
So pale – it hardly sat
on the outstretched branch
of the winter night.
In H Is For Haiku, Sawsan depicts a moon with an amiable, smiling face, which is perfect. But –“it” can be anything the reader imagines! There are no limits, and there are no wrong answers. Mom deliberately doesn’t specify what “it” is. There’s a subtle sense of mystery and serenity in this scene. Maybe it’s even a little bit spooky. It’s all up to readers to fill in this picture — and, if they wish, create a little story around it. They can complete the haiku however they like, and make it their own.
The magic of (and in) haiku is that anything we experience can be transformed into a poem. We have to focus with our five senses … and then let things flow. It takes practice, of course, and a willingness to linger and pay attention – to tune into our surroundings, and tune out distractions
As Syd says in her introduction, “On What Is Haiku,” which was first published in a journal called Wind Chimes back in 1981:“The split second one starts to touch a flower – real or plastic? That’s haiku. Before the hoof comes down — that’s haiku!”
Happy National Poetry Month! May it be filled with bits of magic!
Amy Losak is a veteran New York healthcare public relations executive. Inspired by her late mother, Sydell Rosenberg, and others in the global haiku community, she now writes and publishes her own short poems in leading online and print journals. H Is For Haiku has been selected by the National Council for Teachers of English as a 2019 “Notable Poetry Book.” It also was a finalist for a Cybils in the Poetry Award category this year.