National Poetry Month: “H is for Haiku” Interview with Amy Losak AND The 2018 Progressive Poem Day 10!

National Poetry Month is underway and I’ve got a lot going on: poetry, interviews, student writing, a national book launch for my second picture book! Today, in addition to my contribution to the 2018 Progressive Poem, I have an interview with Amy Losak about H is for Haiku (Penny Candy Books), a brand-new children’s poetry collection written by her late mom, Sydell Rosenberg.

Amy Losak Click to enlarge)

Thanks so much for taking the time to chat, Amy! First of all, congratulations on the book – it’s been a long time coming. Can you please share with my readers what the book is about?

Matt, thanks very much for your kindness and interest! H Is For Haiku: A Treasury of Haiku from A to Z (Penny Candy Books, illustrated by Sawsan Chalabi) is an alphabet collection of short poems – haiku and senryu –written by my mother, Sydell Rosenberg. Syd was a charter member of the Haiku Society of America in 1968 and served as HSA secretary in 1975. Mom was a New Yorker, so she called her short poems “city haiku” (in a classic book released in 1974, The Haiku Anthology, edited by Cor van den Heuvel and published by Doubleday Anchor). Some of her poems in this new picture book have an urban “flavor” or “feel,” yet they also are universal – and timeless.

In addition, mom’s senryu will be featured in a new anthology from National Geographic, The Poetry of USedited by former U.S. Children’s Poet Laureate, J. Patrick Lewis. It will be released in late September.

That’s terrific! I know a number of folks who will have poems included in that book, myself included, so it’s an honor to be in it with her. I remember when we first met online, you were in the process of finding a publisher for this book. How long did it take you to go from searching to finally nailing down a deal?

In truth, this has been a long and often arduous journey. Mom had completed at least a couple of kids’ poetry manuscripts, including a haiku A-B-C reader. She submitted them to publishers in the 1980s, perhaps even in the 1970s. (I have some of her saved rejection letters somewhere).

At mom’s funeral in 1996, I remember that my brother Nathan, sister-in-law Debbie, and I promised to fulfill her dream of publishing a picture book. But I didn’t start to get “get serious” until around 2011. Then it became an act of almost Herculean mobilization, because her work is disorganized. And emotionally, I wasn’t ready to tackle a project of this magnitude sooner.

But I finally began to wade through a welter of her papers, notebooks, etc., that had been thrown into boxes and bags after she died. I managed to assemble a lovely cache of her work, including poems from those old manuscripts. I contacted arts education and literacy organizations with proposals about partnering on programs to use her haiku as teaching tools. I connected with a terrific nonprofit arts education organization in New York, Arts For All (arts-for-all.org).

For several years, we have had a successful collaboration. Mom’s haiku and senryu are used to teach the basics of painting, drawing and collage; music; and theater in a Bronx school and a Queens school. I’ve also conducted readings of her adult and kids’ poetry at the Queens Botanical Garden and The Poets House in NY, respectively. And a few years ago at the Children’s Museum of the Arts in New York, teaching artists even created a gorgeous, golden structure: a haiku PoeTree!

But my ultimate goal has always been this book. I first began submitting mom’s manuscript directly to publishers in early April of 2015 – I believe on April 1 (no fooling!). I signed the contract with the wonderful Penny Candy Books (the principals are Chad Reynolds and Alexis Orgera, who also are poets) on October 31 in 2016 (yes, Halloween). When you add it all up, it has taken decades to reach this destination.

I have to give thanks to the extraordinary encouragement of many people: family, friends, colleagues, poets and children’s authors. I am deeply grateful for this wellspring of support – it’s been invaluable.

There are a lot of folks writing haiku these days. What do you think your mom’s poetry offers readers they may not have experienced before?

Haiku is global in scope and popularity today. Poets around the world are producing glorious work and supporting each other’s creative spirits. My mom’s style changed somewhat over her thirty-odd years as a “haijin” (haiku poet) – at times, her work got sparer. The poems in HIFH are more like, I think, miniature stories. I refer to them as “word-pictures” that capture nature and human nature “in nuggets.” They are gentle, and gently humorous —  observant “slices” of life to make readers smile.

From “H is for Haiku,” © 2018 Amy Losak, Sawsan Chalabi, Penny Candy Press; all rights reserved, used with permission (Click to enlarge)

Back in the ’80’s, you helped create promotional materials for the PBS TV series, “Voices & Visions”…how did your business and broadcast experience help – if it all – during the process of getting this poetry collection off the ground?

This assignment was early in my career as a publicist, thanks to the mentorship and guidance of my two female bosses at the time, Charlotte Klein and Betty Travis. They were senior public relations executives, I helped promote this TV series about American poets – which “distance learners” could take for college credit — on behalf of The Annenberg/CPB Project. I loved the creative challenges and opportunities Charlotte and Betty gave me.

But I had no inkling then that, decades later, I would undertake this “mission” of publishing my mother’s work, not to mention writing (and sometimes publishing) my own short poetry too. And yet, in hindsight, perhaps my career helped lay the groundwork.

I also worked on the press kit and media relations outreach for the 1980’s PBS series, “Anne of Green Gables,” thanks to my mentors. I grew up with L.M. Montgomery’s books (my parents took us on a jaunt to Prince Edward Island when I was a teen), and Anne’s poetic sensibility resonated with me. I thought of her as a “kindred spirit.” I still do! (See my blog here: https://www.pennycandybooks.com/blog-1/losak)

Which poem is your favorite from this collection, and why?

I confess I have several. One that I have come to love is:
.

So pale — it hardly sat

    on the outstretched branch

       of the winter night.

.

This award-winning haiku was published twice in the journal, Haiku West (1968 and 1975) and was also published on mom’s tribute page in the December, 1996 issue of Frogpond, the journal of the Haiku Society of America. I am captivated by the mystery of this poem, because “it” isn’t specified. “It” can be anything the reader imagines – the friendly moon, certainly (Sawsan’s lovely interpretation in the book), but other things too. This haiku is serene, simple… yet striking.   

Indeed, it is, Amy…and I agree, the ambiguity is key. There are  wonderful, unique visuals in several other poems, as well, like children with umbrellas compared to rows of mushrooms and flamingos’ legs “melting” in the lake water. My favorite poem happens to be on the very first page:

From “H is for Haiku,” © 2018 Amy Losak, Sawsan Chalabi, Penny Candy Press; all rights reserved, used with permission (Click to enlarge)

One last question: if you could tell someone unfamiliar with haiku why they should purchase this book, what would you say?

Syd’s haiku (and haiku in general) will open children’s eyes – awaken their senses –to the expansive possibilities in the “small moments” of their everyday lives. Haiku is about happiness, discovery, fun, play…and awareness.

Well, thank you again, Amy, and best wishes for success with this book!

Thank you, Matt! I hope readers – kids and adults alike – find joy in H Is For Haiku, and use the collection as a springboard for reading more great haiku and writing their own, too!

Again, H Is For Haiku is now in stores everywhere – so Happy Book Birthday, Amy! One week from today, I’ll be interviewing illustrator Louie Chin, for our book birthday of Don’t Ask a Dinosaur (Pow! Kids Books), so please keep an eye out for that!

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The 2018 Kidlitosphere Progressive Poem is HERE!

A little seed is on an adventure! The 2018 Progressive Poem is underway, and our little heroine has just invented a game. What type of game? We’re not sure at this point, because she’s feasting on stardrops with Owl and has invited Moon to join her – but he has other ideas.

I’ve had to think quite a bit about what I should add for my line; the seed has invented a game, but she’s not playing it – which is a conundrum as far as a narrative goes. Interestingly, this is probably the tightest narrative we’ve had in all the years of the Progressive Poem – we usually go on these vast, epic, poetic journeys of discovery!

When the poem began on April 1, I saw the imagery of the seed…of the morning… of stretching…as symbolic of new beginnings and adventure. I was hoping this year’s poem would take us into uncharted territory – and that’s what it appears to be doing! My main concern, to be honest, was that I didn’t want the plot to become too similar to Frank Asch’s Moongame. So without being too specific, I tried to move the poem forward and leave the next writer something creative to work with.

Here is the poem so far, with my line at the end…
.

Nestled in her cozy bed, a seed stretched.
Oh, what wonderful dreams she had had!
Blooming in midnight moonlight, dancing with
the pulse of a thousand stars, sweet Jasmine
invented a game.
“Moon?” she called across warm, honeyed air.
“I’m sad you’re alone; come join Owl and me.
We’re feasting on stardrops, we’ll share them with you.”
“Come find me,” Moon called, hiding behind a cloud.

Secure in gentle talons’ embrace, Jasmine rose

Being the only guy taking part in this year’s Progressive Poem, I was inclined to include something about motorcycles, power tools, or bikinis…but I restrained myself.

Take it away, Brenda! Here’s a list of all the folks participating, so you can follow along!

April
1 Liz at Elizabeth Steinglass
2 Jane at Raincity Librarian
3 Laura at Writing the World for Kids
4 Michelle at Today’s Little Ditty
5 Jan at bookseedstudio
6 Irene at Live Your Poem
7 Linda at TeacherDance
8 Janet F. at Live Your Poem
9 Ramona at Pleasures from the Page
10 Matt at Radio, Rhythm and Rhyme
11 Brenda at Friendly Fairy Tales
12 Carol at Beyond LiteracyLink
13 Linda at A Word Edgewise
14 Heidi at my juicy little universe
15 Donna at Mainely Write
16 Sarah at Sarah Grace Tuttle
17 Ruth at There is no such thing as a Godforsaken town
18 Christie at Wondering and Wandering
19 Michelle at Michelle Kogan
20 Linda at Write Time
21 Robyn at Life on the Deckle Edge
22 Tabatha at The Opposite of Indifference
23 Amy at The Poem Farm
24 Mary Lee at A Year of Reading
25 Kiesha at Whispers from the Ridge
26 Renee at No Water River
27 Buffy at Buffy’s Blog
28 Kat at Kat’s Whiskers
29 April at Teaching Authors
30 Doraine at Dori Reads

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“THE DINOSAUR TOUR” blog tour continues TOMORROW, April 11, at Deb Kalb’s place! My thanks to all the bloggers who are joining in the celebration of the launch of my new book, Don’t Ask a Dinosaur, co-authored with Deborah Bruss.

The complete list of blogs taking part in the DINOSAUR TOUR:

April 6:       Michelle H. Barnes (Interview w/month-long writing prompt)
April 8:       Kate Narita (Book trailer & activity sheet spotlight)
April 11:     Deborah Kalb (Interview w/Matt & Deb)
April 13:     Yours Truly! (Interview w/illustrator Louie Chin)
April 16:     KidLit Exchange (Blog post re: process of illustration)
April 17:     Momma’s Bacon (DAAD review)
April 17:     Yours Truly!  (I’ll be sharing a couple of spreads of the book here – and gearing up for our National Book Launch that night in Cambridge, MA!)
April 18:     Bonnie Ferrante (DAAD review)
April 19:     Brenda Davis Harsham (DAAD micro review)
April 25:     Bonnie Ferrante (Interview w/Matt & Deb)
May 2:        Unleashing Readers (DAAD review)
TBD:           KidLit Exchange (DAAD review)
May 30:     Bookseedstudio (DAAD review/interview) 

I hope you’ll stop by these various blogs, as you’ll learn something new at each one, plus you’ll have multiple opportunities to win copies of Don’t Ask a Dinosaur!

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The DINOSAURS are COMING…

DON’T ASK A DINOSAUR” arrives in stores April 17!

New dates continue to be added to the Dinosaur Tour! Here’s the most up-to-date schedule:

  • Sat., April 14, 11am:  Toadstool Bookshop, Peterborough, NH, (Children’s Author Day with illustrator Ryan O’Rourke AND Local Book Launch for Don’t Ask a Dinosaur!)
  • Sat., April 14, 2pm:  Toadstool Bookshop, Keene, NH, (Children’s Author Day with illustrator Ryan O’Rourke AND Local Book Launch for Don’t Ask a Dinosaur!)
  • Tue., April 17, 7pm:  Porter Square Books, Cambridge, MADon’t Ask a Dinosaur Dual National Launch Party!! (with Holly Thompson, One Wave at a Time reading/signing/discussion)
  • Thur., April 26, 10:30am:  Pillsbury Free Library, Warner, NH, Dinosaur Storytime with Don’t Ask a Dinosaur and School People!
  • Sat., April 28, 10:30am: Brookline Booksmith, Brookline, MADon’t Ask a Dinosaur and School People reading/signing
  • Sat., April 28, 2pm: Barnes & Noble, Framingham, MADon’t Ask a Dinosaur reading/signing (with Sara Levine, Fossil by Fossil: Comparing Dinosaur Bones reading/signing)
  • Sun., April 29, 2pm:  MainStreet BookEnds, Warner, NHDon’t Ask a Dinosaur and School People reading/signing and discussion
  • Sat., May 5, 10am: Barnes & Noble, Burlington, MADon’t Ask a Dinosaur and School People reading/signing
  • Sat., May 5, 1pm:  Barnes & Noble, Nashua, NHDon’t Ask a Dinosaur and School People reading/signing
  • Sat., May 12, 11am:  Gibson’s Bookstore, Concord, NHDon’t Ask a Dinosaur and School People reading/signing
  • Wed., May 16, 12pm: Concord Hospital Gift Shop, Concord, NH, Don’t Ask a Dinosaur and School People signing
  • Sat., May 19, 11:30am-3pm: Barnes & Noble, Salem, NH, National Storytime at 11am, followed by Don’t Ask a Dinosaur and School People reading/signing
  • Sat., June 2, 1-3pm: Books-A-Million, Concord, NH, Don’t Ask a Dinosaur and School People reading/signing

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Thank you so much to all the librarians, bloggers, and parents who are still discovering “Flashlight Night!” 

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Purchasing personalized signed copies ONLINE? Yes, it’s true!

In case you haven’t heard, there’s a new way to purchase personalized signed copies of not only Flashlight Night, but ANY of my books or anthologies I’ve been part of!

I’ve teamed up with the good folks MainStreet BookEnds in Warner, NH to present an option for people who would love to have a signed copy of one of my books but don’t live anywhere near me. MainStreet BookEnds has ALL but one of my books available for ordering…and the best part is, you can get them personalized!

Just log onto my website and click the cover of whichever book you want, and they will get it to me to sign and send it off to you. Try doing that with those big online booksellers! (Plus, you’ll be helping to support local book-selling – and wouldn’t that make you feel good?)

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