H is for Haiku: A Treasury of Haiku from A to Z – Sydell Rosenberg and Sawsan Chalabi, Penny Candy Books, 2019
Haiku is a poetic form that seems to demand less, but really demands more. In only three lines of five, seven, and five syllables, the artist asks for our attention to the essential, and revealing, parts of life. As author Sydell Rosenberg’s daughter writes in the introduction to this collection of her late mother’s work, “What’s most important about writing haiku is to focus on those many small moments we may overlook and make them special.” If you thought that writing haiku meant that you had to address nature, or conform to other requirements of the traditional Japanese form, then focus intently on this quirky collection before you grab your pen, or sit down at your computer. Rosenberg wrote about children, umbrellas, monsters, beauty parlors, and trash cans, all related to one another with delicate humor and verbal assurance. The pictures that accompany the poems are bright and expressive, equally accessible to children and adults.
H is for Haiku is not the first collection to expand the form beyond its origins. There are other lovely examples, such as Celeste Mannis and Susan Kathleen Hartung’s One Leaf Rides the Wind, Betsy E. Snyder’s sweet I Haiku You, and the detailed guidelines of Patricia Donegan’s Write Your Own Haiku for Kids. Rosenberg’s collection is a bit more irreverent and dream-like.
Sawsan Chalabi’s picture of a woman hanging out wash on a line captures the arresting lines, “Vacation cottage/long Johns on a mountain top/swaying in the sun.” (In the book, the words are all capitalized, with letters alternating color and angle to one another.) The woman’s skirt is the house itself, with windows and chimney facing the reader as she concentrates on her task. There is an authentic slice of New York City life, as workers suffering from the summer heat indulge in a refreshing moment: “Queuing for ice cream/sweat-sprinkled office workers/on Queens Boulevard.” That “sweat-sprinkled” is just right, as the patient line of people, of different ethnicities, enjoy a moment of respite as brief as the poem itself.
The book concludes with brief profiles of author and illustrator. Ms. Rosenberg was a public school teacher for many years, as well as a charter member of the Haiku Society of America. Ms. Chalabi is a versatile illustrator and designer. As a short introduction to the form by Rosenberg aptly declares, “Haiku can’t be gimmicked; it can’t be shammed.” H is for Haiku illuminates how and why this form of poetry is unique, in all its non-gimmicky, sham-denying beauty.