Happy Mother’s Day Week, readers, writers, and shark fans!
To celebrate this Mother’s Day with you, we wanted to share a special mother-daughter poetry collaboration that really pulled at our heartstrings: Wing Strokes Haiku by Sydell Rosenberg and Amy Losak.
Poet Sydell Rosenberg lived in New York City her entire life and had a unique appreciation for art, nature, and particularly words. One great example of her literary contributions was during a New York City arts project when area movie theaters used their marquees as “frames” for short poems, in which Rosenberg was featured.
From an early point in her writing career, Rosenberg referred to her poems as “City Haiku,” due to their brevity and references to nature, which she celebrated throughout her beloved city. The emotions behind her donning of the “City Haiku” was apparent all throughout her work, including those works found in Wing Strokes Haiku.
Wing Strokes Haiku by Sydell Rosenberg and Amy Losak
Wanting to keep her mother’s memory and her literary contributions alive, Amy Losak decided to curate her mother’s works in aiku and Senryu, as well as her own Haiku, which she was originally inspired to write because of her mother’s works in the poetic form. What resulted was a lovely and poignant collection between a mother and a daughter, as well as an excellent literary example of, both, the Senryu and Haiku forms (the Haiku is commonly identified by its three-line form, including five syllables on the first line, seven on the second, and five again on the third; while the Senryu may follow the same form or otherwise be seventeen or fewer syllables/morae).
I was fascinated by the organization of this collection and how the ordering of a group of poems can speak as loudly as the content of the poems themselves. For the first two-thirds of the collection, each page features one Haiku or Senryu by Rosenberg, followed by one written by Losak. This reflected Rosenberg’s mastery of the form before passing the tradition of writing short-form poetry on to her daughter, which is mirrored in the final segment of the book. The final third of the book features poems by Losak first, followed by Rosenberg, implying a passing of the torch. Finally, the last page of the book features only poems by Rosenberg, which felt like a final reminder of Rosenberg’s literary contributions and a lovely reference to her memory.
Looking beyond the ordering of the works and more closely examining the poems themselves now, I also deeply loved the conversations on the page between Losak’s and Rosenberg’s poems, as well as how Rosenberg’s concept of the “City Haiku” was emulated and brought to life throughout the collection. Though an outsider might think of New York City as predominantly being made up of buildings and concrete, Rosenberg and Losak are quick to argue for natural moments and pockets they witness throughout the city on a daily basis, and those little moments are captured beautifully in these poems.
My favorite interactions on the page involved one poem that would portray an event, followed by a poem that contained a reasonable consequence or explanation for that event. Each example I have of this occurring involved a poem by each author, though it’s unclear if Losak wrote poems to mirror her mother’s or if it was happenstance until the time came to select the order for the collected works.
warning his mother
to walk softly…
the pinwheel call
of a cardinal
These two poems (the first by Rosenberg, the second by Losak) call up city life, in which seeing a butterfly has more novelty than it might in a country setting. But just as the child in the first poem warns their mother to walk carefully because of the butterfly, the second poem mentions a “life lesson” and the (possibly warning) call of a cardinal. There’s something ominous about this pairing because of the warning and life lesson, but there’s also something beautiful in the observation of these characters and the consideration to tread lightly and respect nature.
The parallel between violence or less with something beautiful was the most jarring, lovely, and memorable aspect of this collection. Paralleling with nature, the poems in this collection tackled the difficulties and triumphs of being alone, of loss and grief, of motherhood and sacrifice, and much more about the human condition and how we fit into our larger natural world. Though the collection only spans 32 pages, with 44 poems in total, the life these poems (and the absences contained in them, true to the Haiku’s and Senryu’s forms) breathe into these broad, trailing subjects is astounding.
This pairing, as well, struck me, and the final image actually managed to keep me up one night (and has since stayed with me):
I make friends
with a stinkbug
howls at the sun
Too many of us can identify with the feelings contained in the first poem of loneliness, isolation, and the desperate need for connection that we collectively felt during the pandemic. But the second poem brings a certain violence to our emotions, a greater urgency, and dangerous entrapment, as we imagine a seagull with no way out. Both of these poems by Losak are lovely and honest, but when paired together, they deliver a message that is all too palpable.
What began as a vessel to preserve her mother’s memory became a powerfully interconnected web of works on nature and self that’s astounding and worthy of multiple reads, which will invite new interpretations every time, because of Rosenberg and Losak’s meaningful use of the silence and omitted information found in every Haiku and Senryu. Not only do I recommend reading this collection, but I recommend reading it multiple times, to truly take it in.
“brooding/over world events” from Wing Strokes Haiku was the first-place winner of the 2021 Haiku Society of America Senryu Award, in Memorial of Gerald Brady, and is available on Amazon/Kelsay Books. It’d be an incredible read for lovers of poetry—Haiku, Senryu, short-form, or just lovely poetry in general—nature, mother-daughter projects, and meaningful explorations of self.
Keep reading for our exclusive interview with Amy Losak about Wing Strokes Haiku and more, as well as our suggested additional Mother’s Day titles!
An Exclusive Interview with Amy Losak
After reading this incredible, touching collection, it’s an honor to take a closer look at Wind Strokes Haiku with poet Amy Losak. Amy, thank you so much for taking the time for this interview.
MLT: I absolutely loved this collection and would love to hear what inspired you to create a collaborative chapbook. It’s beautiful how your poems speak to Syd’s.
AL: I traditionally published Syd Rosenberg’s first book, H Is For Haiku, in 2018 (Penny Candy Books, illustrated by Sawsan Chalabi; I wrote the introduction). It had been mom’s dream to publish a Haiku picture book, specifically an A-B-C reader. Sadly, her sudden and unexpected death in 1996 put an end to that dream for a long time.
But decades later, I decided I had to try and revive that dream. My efforts were slow-going, bumpy, and frankly, painful. My mother’s death was still so raw. My ongoing grief was a major deterrent. Thankfully, I had lots of help and support pushing through that, as well as my own innate propensity to procrastinate when faced with a daunting creative and logistical task.
But to my astonishment, I was successful! Penny Candy Books, a small children’s press, was a wonderful, dedicated partner in bringing mom’s piquant words to life. So was Sawsan, with her vivid and clever illustrations and lettering.
Syd was a NY teacher and a charter member of the Haiku Society of America in 1968. Over time, once I decided to go for it, her dream became mine. It was ours. I started to read and write my own Haiku. I joined HSA.
The fruition—the publication of H Is For Haiku got my creative wheels turning. The logjam finally broke.
I wanted to continue to revive and honor her literary work.
In 2020, Kattywompus Press released her mostly Haiku chapbook for adults, Poised Across the Sky. Editor Sammy Greenspan and I co-edited. This little book is chock full of mom’s wry, mostly urban observations, captured in Haiku and Senryu.
(Senryu focus more on human nature, usually in a humorous way. Haiku focus more on the seasons and the natural world.)
MLT: I’m fascinated by the focus on birds and insects in this chapbook, as well as the emphasis on motherhood, self, and the mundane/day-to-day. Did you write to that theme, or did it just come together that way?
After these two books, I wanted to attempt something collaborative—the next step in leveraging her work. My aim was to have our poems complement each other.
I settled on the theme of things with wings (metaphorical and literal). Mom wrote so much about birds and insects. So have I. Of course, these are common subjects in Haiku—in poetry.
The title, Wing Strokes Haiku, comes from Mom’s essay, “On What Is Haiku,” published in an old Haiku journal in the early 1980s. It was an ideal title for this new collection from the wonderful literary press, Kelsay Books. (This lovely short essay is in H Is For Haiku.)
MLT: What is your approach to writing Haiku? How do you decide what you will leave in, which has to speak for everything that’s been left out?
That’s a good question! It’s hard to say. I haven’t really analyzed my process to any great extent. I observe my surroundings, zero in on small (both ordinary and unusual) things that stand out to me, and ideas and impressions emerge. I tend to come up with several versions of a Haiku or Senryu, and then I try to distill those images/impressions into a final version. Sometimes it’s hard to settle on a favorite iteration. And there have been occasions where I’ve abandoned the idea because I couldn’t get it right to my satisfaction.
Sometimes I will come back to one I discarded—a little distance can result in a fresh perspective.
Sometimes I will “play” with a Haiku that I had considered final. So the process can be “messy” and non-linear. It can ebb and flow, gush, trickle, and shut off. And that’s fine.
MLT: How did you decide on the ordering of the collection, as well as the placement of a poem by both of you on each page—until toward the end of the collection, of course?
This was a laborious process. I went back and forth to get the ordering right and placement right. The first “batch” of poems, two per page, is Sydell’s insect-themed Haiku, then my bird-themed Haiku. The second batch reverses our themes and who comes first: I’m insects and mom is birds. In the final “batch,” we each get our own two pages of bird and insect Haiku.
I wanted us both to share the spotlight, so to speak.
Kelsay Books also was a terrific partner in this process.
MLT: With your impressive background in writing Haiku, what is your favorite style of short-form poetry to write? Haiku, Senryu, some other form?
Definitely Haiku and Senryu, but I’m also having a lot of joy writing limericks and longer poetry for children. I’ve had two poems accepted in two kids’ magazines (The School Magazine and Ember: A Journal of Luminous Things), and I’m so excited. They should be published soon.
I also recently had a couple of limericks published in a fun kids’ online zine called Dirigible Balloon.
MLT: Who are your favorite writers of Haiku or other short-form poets? Who inspires you?
They all do! The Haiku and Senryu community is varied and global. I love reading different poets’ work and sensing small worlds through their singular lenses.
MLT: A curiosity! Syd referred to her Haiku as “City Haiku.” I assume this had something to do with her poems being featured in New York’s public arts project, or her living in New York, but I wondered if there was some other story there?
Mom’s upbringing background was uniquely New York. She was steeped in the city. She loved nature too, and found it wherever she looked—our parks, gardens, and more. Every day was for her a small adventure, an opportunity to seek and find bits of poetry in our daily lives.
MLT: Finally, what are you working on now? Is there anything you can share with us?
Yes! I have several kids’ poetry manuscripts out on submission. One is another themed collab between Syd and me. And several rhyming stories of my own too. A couple are about our rambunctious cats, Winnie and Penny. They are such creative sources for me.
We will see what happens!
Lastly, I’m thrilled that the literary journal, The Maine Review, just published Mom’s short story, “I Retrospect Nature.” I have two more of her stories out to lit magazines too.
Additional Titles for Mother’s Day Week
To continue the Mother’s Day celebration, we’ve included poetry and fiction titles that we believe our readers would enjoy if Wing Strokes Haiku interests them and if they’re interested in complex female and motherly figures in literature. Some of these books depict beautiful relationships between mothers and their children, but there are other depictions here, including psychological thrillers, pregnancy troubles, and struggles in motherhood. Whatever “vibe” you’re looking for regarding pregnancy or motherhood, you’ll find some depiction here, as well as naturalist, emotional, and lyrical similarities to Losak and Rosenberg’s Wing Strokes Haiku.
Poetry for Mother’s Day
It’s How You Catch the Light by Charlotte Johnston (Edited by daughter Heidi Ling)
This poignant poetry, prose, and photography collection of Charlotte Johnson’s lifetime of works was carefully curated by her daughter, Heidi Ling. What first began as a passion project and a family heirloom quickly became something far more serious and renowned, the book now a treasure to Wisconsin’s literary community, especially Door County.
This collection relates in many ways to Wing Strokes Haiku, as it began as a project through which Ling wanted to preserve the memory of her mother as well as her mother’s writing, all at once a celebration of Charlotte Johnston’s literary achievements and her contributions to her family. What the book became, however, was a multi-media tome of a family, a story of immigration, and a unique glimpse into womanhood and motherhood. The book also strongly emphasizes nature and our many connections to it.
Available on Amazon/Highlands Press
Sophia & The Boy Who Fell by Traci Brimhall (Illustrated by Sarah Nguyen)
In this beautiful prose poetry story, illustrated by Sarah Nguyen, Traci Brimhall tells the story of two children who overcome their fear and their grief, and explore new worlds together, through their love and friendship.
While this book focuses on two children, it’s clearly told and illustrated by two mothers, wishing for their children to be resilient and to be able to work through the obstacles of their lives, just like any mother would hope.
This book is brief, powerful, and beautiful in its portrayal of friendship, grief, loss, and commitment to going on living.
Available on Amazon/SeedStar Books
How to Live on Bread and Music by Jennifer K. Sweeney
This collection is a beautiful portrayal of the lovely and difficult moments of pregnancy and early months of childbirth and early child-rearing. True to the name of the collection, there are frequent mentions of music, rhythm, food, and hunger, but nature is greatly celebrated, as well.
Especially for women going through or frequently having gone through pregnancy, or women who know someone who is, this would be a wonderful collection for them to carry with them, in celebration and in the hard, lonelier moments.
Available on Amazon/Perugia Press
Bad Baby by Abigail Welhouse
Particularly for the harder moments and lonelier times of pregnancy and early motherhood, Bad Baby does not shy away from the possibilities of “problem children,” “tough pregnancies,” and “hard babies,” and goes so far as to personify and give adult-like agency to babies, like talking about all the ways children can make their mothers’ lives hard.
While this is not the most uplifting read, the writing is incredibly smart and compelling, and it also reminds mothers and guardians that they are not alone, even during difficult times, and their complaints and concerns, while sometimes troubling, are not unique, but felt by many.
Available with dancing girl press
Daughter Eraser by Amber West
This poetry collection uniquely blends the everyday occurrences and the serious with the humorous. These poems address deep grief and family tensions, as well as political concerns, through striking honesty, imagery, and satirical humor.
Much like Bad Baby, the collection deals with the tougher points surrounding family life, mother-daughter relationships, political pressures on women, pregnancy, and early motherhood, and through humor, it does not shy away from those realities. Where one collection focuses on angry babies, this one focuses on erasure, both literally and figuratively.
Available on Amazon/Finishing Line Press
Awful Baby by Mary Lou Buschi
This poetry collection by Mary Lou Buschi importantly tackles not only pregnancy and motherhood but some of the other less commonly talked about attributes of becoming a mother: the isolation after life-long friends disappear in the face of one friend having children, breaking generational cycles, a mother realizing she wants to parent differently than her parents, and other concerns related to political tensions, body autonomy, and more. What’s so haunting about these poems, however, is the ethereal and dream-like depictions of the pregnancy condition and early motherhood life. These poems are deeply beautiful, visual, and lyrical, and they are truly just lovely to read when a reader needs a moment to explore quality poetry and to have a quiet moment to themselves.
Available on Amazon/Red Paint Hill Publishing
Fiction for Mother’s Day
Lessons in Chemistry by Bonnie Garmus
Too often, we find ourselves in a trap of thinking that we’re too late to be successful or to make a difference, because we’ve reached a certain age, lost a job, or gone through some other pivotal event. The truth behind this is the key takeaway in Bonnie Garmus’s smart, witty, and utterly hilarious novel, Lessons in Chemistry, which follows chemist Elizabeth Zott who seems to have it all figured out. In the 1960s, with a successful job in a male-dominated field, alongside a handsome partner, Elizabeth is ready to argue against being anything like “average.”
But a few years later, she finds herself in that stereotypically average position: not just single, but a single mother, working in the kitchen. She reluctantly was placed center-stage in America’s favorite cooking show, which she approaches as a brilliant chemist. As people become drawn in by her technique, Elizabeth realizes that she has the power to deliver a greater message to her listening audience that “average” people can add not only spice to their food but to their entire lives.
A brilliant and funny read that readily argues the concepts of “being average” and “it’s too late,” Lessons in Chemistry is surely a story that any mother could find truth and a friend in.
Available on Amazon/Doubleday
Little Fires Everywhere by Celeste Ng
Set in a conservative, traditional town, mother and wife Elena Richardson is among an influential group of women who assure the rest of the town that their community will always be “just right.” But when single mother and artist Mia Warren comes into town, alongside her teenage daughter Pearl, Elena is quick to take notice of the pair and question their influence on the rest of the community. As Elena’s four children become intermingled with the two new women, and Elena digs into the stickier details of Mia’s past, the perfect mother finds herself ready to do anything to get her perfect community back to normal again.
But the situation becomes more complicated when a baby is left at the fire department’s door and one of Elena’s friends gets into a custody battle with the mother who reappears. This would appear to be happenstance if Elena did not discover who supported the woman’s right to her child: none other than the artistic Mia, who might have her own custody story to tell.
A poignant story about family and love, this book drives home the different looks of the family, the mother, and the guardian. It carries with it tremendous and deep secrets and celebrates art, nature, and originality, and more than anything else, it urges its characters to be true to themselves, no matter the cost.
Reese Witherspoon may have said it best: “To say I love this book is an understatement. It’s a deep psychological mystery about the power of motherhood, the intensity of teenage love, and the danger of perfection. It moved me to tears.”
Available on Amazon/Penguin Books
Regretting You and Reminders of Him by Colleen Hoover
Regretting You is a tough story between mother Morgan and teen daughter Clara struggling with their relationship and placing unsustainable weight on Clara’s husband’s shoulders as the women’s safe zone from each other. When Clara’s father passes away, the pair find themselves further apart than ever before, seeking solace in other activities and people outside of their family. It’s a tough read that tackles a subject that parents often worry about falling into when their children grow into teenagers, but it delivers a wonderful message of resilience and unconditional love.
Reminders of Him tackles another tough subject that parents fear, which is a child being legally taken away because their parents are unable to provide for one reason or another. After a terrible accident occurs, Kenna’s daughter is displaced while she serves time in prison, and when she completes her sentence, she’s shocked to discover how hard people will work to keep her child away from her. The book shows tremendous resilience, but it more importantly delivers the power of a mother’s love.
Regretting You‘s ISBN-13: 978-1542016421
Available on Amazon/Montlake
Reminders of Him‘s ISBN-13: 978-1542025607
Available on Amazon/Montlake
The Plot by Jennifer Hanff Korelitz
This might seem like an unusual pick for this list, but this tremendous psychological thriller includes an unparalleled mother-daughter pairing, but with a dynamic the reader would never expect upon opening the book. The story centers around writer and professor Jacob Finch Bonner, who feels like he’s at a dead-end with his quiet college, even quieter book publication, and lack of ideas for his next book. Inspired deeply by the story written by a narcissistic student, Jacob finds himself unable to forget the story, and when he later finds out his student passed away without publishing the book, Jacob felt the story deserved to see the light of day, and why not benefit by putting his name on the manuscript?
But as it turns out, the story was not Jacob’s to tell, or even his student’s. Rather, his student had come into information that should have been kept quiet, about a dark and foreboding family with an even darker secret.
Available on Amazon/Celadon Books
Gone But Not Forgotten by C. Michele Dorsey
The final story in this list is another psychological thriller but with a significantly different twist than The Plot. Watching her mother descend into the debilitating madness that is dementia, Olivia was eager to uncover any of her mother’s memories that she could, to preserve the story of her life before her mother passed away. Later, Olivia becomes resigned to the fact that she may never know about her heritage because of her mother’s condition, and she focuses instead on creating her own life with a beautiful home and the perfect husband.
But the day before her mother dies, Olivia looks on as her mother signs a check with a completely different name than her own. It’s in that moment that Olivia realizes that she has a vital clue to look into her mother’s past, but what she doesn’t realize is what darkness her mother had hidden from her, or how important it might have been to her mother to keep those secrets buried to forget them, whether by choice or via dementia.
Available on Amazon/Servern House
About the Authors
AMY LOSAK spent most of her life in Queens, New York, and now lives in New Jersey. She is a healthcare public relations consultant. Her mother, SYDELL ROSENBERG, was a teacher and published writer, especially poetry—primarily Haiku and related forms. Syd was a charter member of the Haiku Society of America in 1968. Amy is a member today.
Syd, who died in 1996, contributed to the literary life of her home borough and New York City. Her “City Haiku” and other poems were published in leading journals, classic anthologies (such as The Haiku Anthology and The Haiku Handbook: How to Write, Share, and Teach Haiku), and other media dedicated to this luminous form. In 1994, Syd’s Senryu was featured in the New York public arts project, Haiku on 42nd Street, in which old theater marquees in Times Square were transformed into “frames” for short poems.
Thanks to Syd’s influence, Amy writes and publishes her own Haiku today. Her own credits include Akitsu Quarterly, Autumn Moon Haiku Journal, Failed Haiku, Frameless Sky, Frogpond (the journal of the Haiku Society of America), The Haiku Foundation, Hedgerow, The Heron’s Nest, Modern Haiku, Newtown Literary, Prune Juice, Tinywords; and more, including several anthologies.
In 2018, Penny Candy Books, started by two poets, released H Is For Haiku (illustrated by Sawsan Chalabi). Amy wrote the introduction. This vibrant children’s collection was honored by the National Council for Teachers of English as a 2019 “Notable Poetry Book.” In 2020, the respected independent literary publisher, Kattywompus Press, released Syd’s chapbook for adults, Poised Across the Sky. Amy and founder Sammy Greenspan served as coeditors.
Amy also is a member of The Bookniks (formerly The Book Meshuggenahs), a group of female Jewish authors in the United States and Israel. They write children’s books and serve as a resource for the Jewish community.