Sydell Rosenberg, (born Sydell Lorraine Gasnick, December 15, 1929, Manhattan, New York, U.S.A.; died October 11, 1996, Jamaica, Queens, N.Y.), pioneering American haiku poet. A charter member of the Haiku Society of America, she served one year as secretary of the society and two terms as a judge of its Merit Book Awards selection committee. Three books of her haiku were published posthumously. Rosenberg last lived in Briarwood, Queens, New York.
Sydell Lorraine Gasnick was born on December 15, 1929, in Manhattan. She was called “Syd” by family and friends. She married Sam Rosenberg in Manhattan in 1955. and had two children, Amy and Nathan. The family lived in the Briarwood neighborhood of Queens.
Rosenberg received a master’s degree in English as a second language (ESL) from the Brooklyn College branch of Hunter College in the 1970s, after which she worked as an elementary school teacher and taught ESL in the public school system.
Sydell Rosenberg wrote haiku, senryu and tanka as well as longer poetry, short stories, literary and lexical puzzles, and translations from and into Spanish.
Perhaps her earliest publication was in 1953. She was working as a copy editor for Universal Publishing, a small company in New York City. Supposedly on a dare from her boss after she complained about the quality of the manuscripts crossing her desk, she wrote and published a mass-market paperback novel, Strange Circle, using a male pseudonym, Gale Sydney.1
Rosenberg discovered Japanese short-form poetry sometime in the 1960s. Most of her haiku—or more often, senryu— were composed in the 5–7–5–syllable format that was standard for the early years of English-language haiku. The topics she chose reflected her urban sensibilities, and she referred to her short poems as “city haiku.”
Rosenberg’s daughterAmy Losakhas written that “[her] daily routine consisted of traveling through Queens neighborhoods including Forest Hills and Kew Gardens, used her bustling surroundings as her primary source of inspiration for her work.… With images of street cats chasing after peach pits and keeping distant from pigeons and sparrows, Rosenberg [made] use of the scenery and nature that is familiar to New Yorkers.”
Her haiku and senryu as well as longer poems appeared in a variety of periodicals, classic anthologies, and standard textbooks, including two editions of Cor van den Heuvel’sThe Haiku Anthology; William J. Higginson’s The Haiku Handbook: How to Write, Share, and Teach Haiku; and Haiku World: An International Poetry Almanac; and Ron Padgett’s The Teachers & Writers Handbook of Poetic Forms. She won awards and honorable mentions for her short-form poetry.
Jumping quietly The cat follows a peach pit Tossed from the terrace2 Keeping their distance From the hooves of the horses— Pigeons and sparrows
In 1981 Rosenberg published a brief rumination on haiku:
On What is Haiku
Now I go to what is there, and each time get something different. Sometimes I get what I want—and other times, perhaps more rewarding, I get what I didn’t know I didn’t want, with pain. Each time, discovery.
Haiku is that fledgling moment—when the wing strokes become sure—when the bird has staying power in the air.
Haiku can’t be gimmicked; it can’t be shammed. If it is slicked into cuteness, haiku loses what it had to give.
The split second one starts to touch a flower—real or plastic?—that’s haiku. Before the hoof comes down, that’s haiku!3
Losak has written, “According to the 1974 Haiku Anthology, [she] published her first haiku in 1967, in American Haiku. But I think she published haiku before then, in 1966, in the poetry column of a long-defunct newspaper.”4
Sydell Rosenberg’s first haiku to appear in American Haiku was:
In between the thorns young blue-tits on a branch near the nest hollow.5
More poems, including these two, were picked up for the next issue of American Haiku:
A wrapping of snow— here and there in the ivy, a dark leaf showing.6 In the soft spring rain master and dog walk sniffing newborn fragrances.7
Rosenberg was a charter member of the Haiku Society of America, which was formed in 1968 by Harold G. Henderson, Leroy Kanterman, and other New York metropolitan-area poets and scholars, and she attended the organizational meeting in October of that year. She served as HSA secretary in 1975 and as a judge for the society’s Merit Book Awards in 1978 and 1981.
Three of Rosenberg’s works were included in the first anthology of English-language haiku, Kay Titus Mormino’s Haiku Anthology, 1968, including this one:
Boy on a mailbox perched like solitary bird watching the sunset. 8
Cor van den Heuvel included this one of Rosenberg’s—arguably her signature poem—in the first edition of The Haiku Anthology (1974):
In the laundermat she peers into the machine as the sun goes down.
This poem was retained for van den Heuvel’s revised second edition (1986), and one new senryu was added:
Library closing— the sleeping wino wakes up holding a shut book.
“Laundermat” was also selected for inclusion in the public arts installation project “Haiku on 42nd Street,” in which senryu and haiku by local poets were displayed for six months in 1995 on the marquees of abandoned theaters in the Times Square area.
In 2013 and 2014, teaching artists from the non-profit arts education organization, Arts For All9 used her haiku in their programs at a Bronx elementary school. In three series of workshops for second-graders, her animal haiku were used to teach the fundamentals of illustration; two workshop series paired a variety of haiku with music to create a song. The Queens Botanical Garden also featured a number of her haiku in a public event designed to nurture, in a natural setting, the appreciation of haiku.
Redefinition and Appreciation of Rosenberg’s Work
Sydell Rosenberg died suddenly on October 11, 1996, in Jamaica, Queens, of an aortic aneurysm.
In its December 1996 issue, Frogpond noted her passing and reprinted this haiku of hers in her memory:
in pieces, yes but how beautiful the pieces!10
Amy Losak arranged for a pink flowering dogwood to be planted near her home, in Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. Park on Broad Street, Teaneck, N.J., in her mother’s memory. The accompanying plaque bears this haiku of Rosenberg’s:
In trees and sky a comical lost-and-found of park balloons.11
Remembering that day, Losak penned the following senryu:
the morning of her memorial sour coffee12
The poets gathered at the December 1996 meeting of the Haiku Society of America’s Northeast Metro Region remembered their colleague:13
In memory of Sydell Rosenberg, a charter member of the Haiku Society of America and a faithful attendant at its meetings from 1968 until family illness prevented this in recent years, a brief reading of her extensive published work was presented by the three charter members attending this meeting, L.A. Davidson, Bernard Lionel Einbond, and Leroy Kanterman.
As the sun sets,
the old fisherman sorts out
the fish he can sell14
From the podium
flesh of her arms quivering
she leads the glee club.
So pale — it hardly sat
on the outstretched branch
of the winter night.15
Two decades after Sydell Rosenberg’s death, Losak undertook a thorough redefinition of her mother’s place in the haiku world, collecting, editing, and publishing the pioneering haiku poet’s work and launching a dedicated marketing campaign.
H is for Haiku: A Treasury of Haiku from A to Z (2018)
In 2018 a longtime aspiration of Rosenberg’s was realized, to create an alphabet book of Japanese-style poems for children. H is for Haiku: A Treasury of Haiku from A to Z contained 26 haiku, mostly previously published but reformatted from the earlier 5–7–5–syllable, three-line pattern into a pattern more appealing to younger readers. Two examples:16
Holding umbrellas, children, like rows of mushrooms, glisten in the rain Yesterday’s cool rain Left this flat puddle smoothing The wrinkled leaves
H is for Haiku was named a Notable Poetry Book for Children by the National Council for Teachers of English in 2019. In a brief review the editor of Modern Haiku found much to like about the book as well:
Rosenberg excelled in syllabic haiku that deftly capture special moments of curiosity, wonder. One editorial reviewer of her posthumously published alphabet book for children, H Is for Haiku, in Modern Haiku, provided a framework for examining the book:
Munching on acorns
a squirrel sweeps up sunbeams
with her transparent tail.
These, and the riddle haiku interspersed throughout the book, should keep children intrigued, even Chalabi’s illustrations make concrete the emotional identifications at the heart of the poetry:
So pale—it hardly
sat on the outstretched branch
of the winter night.
Happily, little has changed in the largely urban world that Rosenberg depicts, making her verse as timely now as when it was written. The same is not true for contemporary aesthetics, which have all but abandoned 5–7–5 haiku. This book yet serves as a refreshing reminder that form must always come in second to what Rosenberg herself called “that fledgling moment, when the wingstrokes become sure—when the bird has staying power in the air.”17
left this flat puddle smoothing
the wrinkled leaves ((Originally published in American Haiku 5:2 (1967) #81.))
Then, in what might have been an affectionate poke at Rosenberg’s good friends and fellow New York City poets Elizabeth Searle Lamb and L. A. Davidson, who had lived and composed haiku throughout the Americas and Africa, the reviewer added, “She wasn’t galavanting around the world searching for exotic adventures, she found her own small adventures right in her neighborhood.”18
Poised Across the Sky (2020)
Two years after H Is for Haiku, a chapbook collection of Sydell Rosenberg’s haiku, senryu, and longer poems, Poised Across the Sky, was published. The contents were selected and jointly edited by Amy Losak and Sammy Greenspan, the editor of Kittywompus Press, which published the work. A small sample:
Pecking at the veils of early city mornings eternal pigeons. My purchase of fish wears yesterday’s grim headline for undergarments.19
Poised Across the Sky was the first collection of Rosenberg’s poetry for a general audience, but it passed almost unnoticed in the American haiku community. It was not reviewed in eitherModern Haiku or Frogpond, although Losak did manage to place a short notice in the Haiku Society of America Bulletin for November 2020 that read in part:
Wing Strokes Haiku (2022)
Wing Strokes Haiku, the third book to showcase Rosenberg’s haiku, was published in 2022. An online review of explained its unusual contents:
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.21
Another reviewer22 offered this example of a pair of haiku by mother and daughter and interpreted the link between them: :
standing in rain,
two tree trunks tied together
by a spider’s web
on the wings
of starlings …
Here are two seemingly disparate images—a spider’s web strung between trees and light glinting off birds. Yet they prove complementary because both depict fragile, fleeting scenes. At any moment, the spider silk could break and sever the trees’ connection. Likewise, any movement of the birds would change the play of light on their feathers and disrupt the scene.”23
Compiled by Amy Losak and the Haikupedia Editors
Sources / Further Reading
Books and chapbooks
- Rosenberg, Sydell. H is for Haiku: A Treasury of Haiku from A to Z. Illustrated by Sawsan Chalabi; Introduction by Amy Losak. Oklahoma City, Okla.: Penny Candy Books, 2018. 26 haiku and illustrations for children.
- Rosenberg, Sydell. Poised Across the Sky. Cleveland, Ohio: Kattywompus Press, 2020. 89 haiku and 9 longer poems.
- Rosenberg, Sydell, and Amy Losak. Wing Strokes Haiku: Poems. American Fork, Utah: Kelsay Books, 2022. 45 haiku and longer poems by the two poets.
- Epstein, Robert, ed. All the Way Home: Aging in Haiku. West Union, W.Va.: Middle Island Press, 2019. 3 haiku.
- Higginson, William J. Haiku World: An International Poetry Almanac. Tokyo, New York, and London: Kodansha International, 1996. 1 haiku.
- Higginson, William J., with Penny Harter. The Haiku Handbook: How to Write, Share, and Teach Haiku. Tokyo: Kodansha, 1985. 3 haiku.
- Higginson, William J., with Penny Harter. Met on the Road: A Transcontinental Haiku Journey. Foster City, Calif.: Press Here, 1993. 1 haiku.
- Mormino, Kay Titus, ed. Haiku Anthology: 1968. Danbury, Conn.: T.N.P.C. [The Nutmegger Poetry Club], no date . 3 haiku.
- Padgett, Ron, ed. Handbook of Poetic Forms. Teachers & Writers Collaborative, 1987.
- van den Heuvel, Cor, ed. The Haiku Anthology: English Language Haiku by Contemporary American and Canadian Poets. Garden City, N.Y.: Doubleday Anchor Books, 1974. 1 haiku.
- van den Heuvel, Cor, ed.. The Haiku Anthology: Haiku and Senryu in English. New York, etc.: Simon & Schuster Touchstone, Revised [2nd] edition, 1986, 1991. 2 haiku.
Selected reviews and articles about Sydell Rosenberg
- Gasnick–Rosenberg, Sydell. “On What Is Haiku.” Living Haiku Anthology website (Poets on Haiku pages), no date: https://livinghaikuanthology.com/poets-on-haiku/defining-haiku/2921-what-is-haiku-by-sydell-rosenberg.html. The essay was originally published in Wind Chimes 3 (1981). The LHA Web page includes 9 haiku and a biographical sketch by Amy Losak.
- “Fourth 1996 Meeting,” Northeast Metro Region [regional report], The HSA Newsletter 12:1 (Winter 1997).
- Genhart, Michael. “H Is For Haiku: A Treasury of Haiku from A to Z.” New York Journal of Books website: (no date): https://www.nyjournalofbooks.com/book-review/h-haiku.
- “H is for Haiku, by Sydell Rosenberg,” Modern Haiku 50:1 (Winter–Spring 2019), 139–40. Brief review.
- Losak, Amy. “How Haiku Is Helping Me Be a Better PR Pro.” Linkedin website, April 8, 2017: https://www.linkedin.com/pulse/how-haiku-helping-me-better-pr-pro-amy-losak.
- Losak, Amy, and Robert Epstein. “H Is For Haiku: A Treasury of Haiku from A to Z by Sydell Rosenberg: Amy Losak Interviewed by Robert Epstein.” Frogpond 41:3 (Winter 2020), 109–13.
- Meditz, Jessica. “Briarwood native touches hearts with ‘H Is For Haiku.’” “Queens Ledger,”LIC Journal website, posted March 30, 2022: https://queensledger.com/2022/03/30/briarwood-poetry-haiku-book/.
- Myers, Gene. “Haiku Column 26 (Sydell Rosenberg).” Haiku Society of America website, July 14, 2017: http://www.hsa-haiku.org/haikucolumn-archives/26-haiku-column-7-14-2014.htm.
- Panik, Michelle. “Wing Strokes Haiku by Sydell Rosenberg and Amy Losak.” MLR—Motherhood Literature & Art Journal, posted December 26, 2022: https://merliterary.com/2022/12/26/wing-strokes-haiku-by-sydell-rosenberg-and-amy-losak/.
- Tozan, McKenzie Lynn. “Wing Strokes Haiku: An Interview with Amy Losak & Other Books for Mother’s Day.” LitShark website, no date: https://litshark.com/wing-strokes-haiku-rosenberg-losak/.
- Young, Glynn. “Poets and Poems: Sydell Rosenberg & Amy Losak and ‘Wind Strokes Haiku.’” tweetspeak website, no date: https://www.tweetspeakpoetry.com/2023/03/21/poets-and-poems-sydell-rosenberg-amy-losak-and-wing-strokes-haiku/.
Haiku periodicals that published Rosenberg’s work
- American Haiku, 1967–1968. 13 haiku.
- The Blue Print, 1968–1969. 3 haiku.
- [HSA] Frogpond, 1978–1997. 37 haiku.
- Haiku Magazine, 1968–1969. 10 haiku.
- Haiku West1967–1970. 12 haiku.
- Hummingbird: , 1993–1994. 2 haiku.
- Janus & SCTH, 1967–1972, 15 haiku.
- Modern Haiku, 1969–1977. 19 haiku.
- New World Haiku, 1973. 1 haiku.
- Wind Chimes, 1981–1988, 34 haiku.
Posthumous publication online
- Asahi Haikuist Network, 2016– .
- Autumn Moon Haiku Journal, 2021– .
- The Heron’s Nest, 2020– .
- Tinywords, 2014– .
- Charter member, Haiku Society of America, 1968.
- Secretary, Haiku Society of America, 1975.
- Co-judge, HSA Merit Book Award committees, 1978 and 1981.
Awards and Contests
- Best Subscriber Haiku, Haiku West 2:1 (July 1968).
- APFS (American Poets Fellowship Society) Book Award winner for the sequence “Boy Montage,” Modern Haiku 1:3 (Summer 1970).
- Raymond Roseliep Memorial Haiku Contest (Loras College, 1988), Honorable Mention.
- J. Franklin Dew Award (Poetry Society of Virginia, 1990), Second Prize for a “series of three or four haiku on a single theme,” for “Chartreuse Mood.”
- Museum of Haiku Literature Award, Frogpond 15:1 (1992) (with 35 other poets) for “Windswept Walk, a chain renku.”
- The online bookseller Bolerium Books categorized the book as a “trash novel with lesbian characters.”
- Both haiku from Rosenberg, H is for Haiku and in the review by Michael Genhart.
- “On What Is Haiku,” Wind Chimes 3 (1981).
- Losak and Epstein, Interview.
- American Haiku 5:1 (1967) #103.
- American Haiku 5:2 (1967) #77.
- American Haiku 5:2 (1967) #83.
- Mormino, ed., Haiku Anthology: 1968, 49.
- Originally published in Frogpond 18:3 (Autumn 1995).
- Originally published in Haiku West 1:2 (January 1968).
- Modern Haiku 52:1 (Winter–Spring 2021).
- The HSA Newsletter 12:1 (Winter 1997).
- First published in American Haiku 5:2 (1967).
- First published in Haiku West 2:1 (July 1968).
- Both these haiku were first published in American Haiku 5:2 (1967).
- Modern Haiku 50:1 (Winter–Spring 2019.
- Modern Haiku 50:1 (Winter–Spring 2019), 139–40.
- Originally published in Modern Haiku 1:2 (Spring 1970).
- https://www.hsa-haiku.org/newsletters/2020-07-HSA-News.pdf. Unlike Rosenberg’s other publications, this book was also not available from online booksellers in 2023.
- Tozan, LitShark website.
- Panik, review of Wing Strokes Haiku.
- Michelle Panik, review of Wing Strokes Haiku. Rosenberg’s haiku originally appeared in American Haiku 6:1 (January 1968) in a slightly different format; Losak’s haiku seems to have been first published here.