1 2 3 4

Remembering Brooklyn poet Wynne Henry

[email protected]

Wynne Henry always had dreams of moving back to Brooklyn.

The Flatbush-bred poet and writer would often talk about it on the phone with her friend Helene Ruiz, founder of the Urban Individualists Collective. They would daydream about moving into adjacent apartment buildings so that they could send food over to each other over the clothewsire and laugh at all the chicken heads below them.

Unfortunately, Henry, who friends often called “poetry dancer,” never got to live that dream. She died in December of last year in California, after a battle with cancer. But her friends ended up giving her the next best thing with a proper memorial in her hometown.

Photos of the late Wynne Henry displayed at her memorial service.

On Friday, several of Henry’s friends gathered in the backyard of an AirBnb in Little Haiti to give the Brooklyn girl a deserving send-off. Throughout her life, Henry worked as a creative writing teacher both in New York City and on the west coast, where she moved several years ago to take care of her mother. Several small plastic fold up tables were set up in the back, each decorated with old photos of Henry and copies of her poetry collection “7 Blocks… and TWO Stories up” that friends would read from.

“She was quiet, simple, practical, and made every effort to do what was good for herself and those around her. She was a woman of her word, and I felt she deserved so much more than life gave her in return,” Kimberly Allen, 54, said. They had been friends for 12 years, originally meeting in the Los Angeles poetry scene.

In everyday life, Wynne was a quiet and introspective person. She wasn’t necessarily shy, but was reserved and often didn’t want to worry friends with her own problems. But in her writing, her voice soared.

“She seemed to really see people. When she brought her poetry and some of the things that she expressed, it let you know that she paid attention to everyday life and the people that she would run across,” Allen continued.

Henry’s poems delved into an array of topics: the scourge of racism, the simple pleasure and disappointments of love and meditations on daily life. One poem, which started as a writing prompt asking poets to define why they write, demonstrates some of her artistic drive.

“I want my poetry to help you find your voice/one word at a time/and when you finally run out of things to say/I want my poetry to speak for you,” a poem entitled ‘I want my poetry to’ reads, from her collection “7 Blocks… and TWO Stories up.

Wynne Henry’s poetry collection “7 Blocks… and TWO stories up”

And on Friday afternoon, Henry’s words spoke for the friend who months later still struggled to find the words to properly mourn her.

Karen Abercrombie remembers many things about her friend of over 20 years, but one of the first that came to mind was her love of cats. After all, Henry is the reason why Abercrombie has two herself.

One Thanksgiving in North Carolina, Abercrombie took Henry to the local animal shelter. They came back each day just to look at one specific cat to adopt. He ended up getting adopted by another family. So, naturally, Abercrombie ended up adopting two other cats instead: one name Langston, after Langston Hughes (one of Henry’s favorite writers); and the other Finn.

Henry didn’t own a cat herself, Abercrombie explained, and speculated that it was because of the disappearance of her childhood cat. But that didn’t stop her from showering her friends’ pets with homemade crochets or picking up their favorite food when she saw it in a supermarket.

“Everytime I look at my cats – or things we shared together, like our love for African fabrics – I think of her,” Abercrombie said tearfully.

William Washington, a fellow poet, said that Henry had shaped him in many ways.

“So what I remember most about her is that besides great poetry, was the love affair we had that was never a love affair,” Washington said explaining their complicated relationship. Washington explained that while they had deep feelings for each other, Henry often kept him at arms length after her first battle with breast cancer.

“I loved her. And I like to think she loved me,” Washington said, to audible agreements from other memorial attendees.

Washington described his poetry before meeting Henry as mad and angry, which often contained harsh language. But Henry taught him that he could use his words to talk about more than just what enraged him.

“You wasn’t born angry like this. So don’t be afraid to write about love. And even if I was writing about my broken heart, she said write about this therapy. She taught me how to use soothing calming words instead of the words I was using,” Washington said.

While most of the attendants knew Henry in different ways, either in passing through art and poetry shows or decades long friendships, Luis Hidalgo, who never met Henry and attended the memorial with his wife,was equally moved by the ceremony.

“You know, as I get older, I think about my legacy. And to see what a legacy this woman left, the way she touched you. And the way she touched me through the words that you spoke here. What a wonderful thing,” Hidalgo said. “You know, words that were written down 2,000, 3,000 years ago, hundreds of years ago, that still echo today. Words that have taken men into battle. Words, putting men and women in love. And we still read it all these years later. And somehow this lady fits that mold.

Hidalgo continued to say that in reality Henry isn’t gone.

“Because in the Bible, it says if more than two to speak my word, I am present. Well, she’s present then.”

Briarwood native touches hearts with ‘H Is For Haiku’

New York City children—particularly those who grew up in Queens—haven’t always had the easiest time relating to the flowery descriptions of nature detailed in the books and stories they read.

But for Sydell Rosenberg, who raised her family in Briarwood, living in the big city is precisely what drove her to bring her passion for haiku poetry to life.
Unfortunately, Rosenberg passed away in October 1996, and her children’s poetry book, “H Is For Haiku: A Treasury of Haiku from A to Z” was posthumously published by her daughter Amy Losak in 2018.

Losak said that her mother discovered haiku poetry sometime in the ‘60s, and quickly fell in love with the art form.

“I like to say that haiku found her,” Losak said.
“She did seem to bond with this compact, lustrous form of poetry. It’s the shortest form of poetry in the world, and yet because of its small size, it’s perhaps the most expansive,” she continued. “It can capture so much, in such few words and such few lines.”

Rosenberg, whose 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, including the poems in “H Is For Haiku.”
With images of street cats chasing after peach pits and keeping distant from pigeons and sparrows, Rosenberg makes use of the scenery and nature that is familiar to New Yorkers—specifically in Queens.

Briarwood Author Sydell Rosenberg

In her book, there is a poem that reads: “Queueing for ice cream, sweat-sprinkled office workers on Queens Boulevard,” in which children can interpret as their favorite neighborhood ice cream shop, the first signs of spring, or the Mister Softee trucks.

“She wasn’t galavanting around the world searching for exotic adventures, she found her own small adventures right in her neighborhood,” Losak said.

“She actually did write a longer poem about the Q60 bus going down Queens Boulevard, which I’m trying to sort out the versions and submit to a magazine perhaps,” she continued. “But that’s where she found the fodder for her writing — in her daily life as a resident of Queens.”

Losak said that the loss of her mother was very sudden, shocking and traumatic for the family.

Even though she knew her mother dreamed of publishing a children’s haiku picture book, Losak did not begin resurrecting her poems until 2011, or assembling them into a children’s book until 2015.

“That took me a long, long time, because the grief was so overwhelming. It was paralyzing and it lasted a really long time,” Losak said.

“Finally, I started taking baby steps to gather some of her work that she and I felt were best suited for a young audience. I researched publishers that didn’t require an agent to submit because I figured no one would want to represent a dead author, even though I was her living surrogate,” she said. “The book was the ultimate goal, and through a combination of determination, luck and utter generosity and kindness of the poetry community is what got it done.”

It was another haiku poet who recommended Losak submit “H Is For Haiku” to the book’s publisher, Penny Candy Books, who loved the book and signed the illustrator, Sawsan Chalabi.

The book was well received by both the poetry and teaching communities, and was honored in 2019 by the National Council of Teachers of English as a notable poetry book.

Losak has also participated in various visits and readings around Queens and elsewhere, including Kew & Willow Books in Kew Gardens.

Although Losak did not always find haiku so fascinating and illusive, she said it was later on in her life when she realized the true influence her mother had on her.

“Even with all the fits and starts and the setbacks, it became so important for me to get this to some kind of conclusion, because over time, her dream became my dream,” Losak said.

“And over time, I realized I couldn’t have the luxury of infinite time. I am close in age now to the age she was when she died suddenly,” she said. “I had to make that decision, and I had to get it published.”

Rosenberg was a charter member of the Haiku Society of America in 1968, and Losak keeps the family tradition alive as a member of the society today.

In addition to “H Is For Haiku,” Rosenberg’s chapbook, “Poised Across the Sky” was published in 2020 with Kattywompus Press.

Losak currently works on a collaborative, mother-daughter adult haiku book, “Wing Strokes,” which is slated to be published later this year with Kelsay Books.
However, she emphasized that “H Is For Haiku” is what started it all.

“It definitely captures in very lucid, simple but evocative language her life and by extension, anyone’s life being a resident of Queens. The great thing about haiku is that you find the universal in the particular,” Losak said.

“Even though it’s the shortest form of poetry, it’s not easy to write. But that’s what makes it so rewarding,” she continued. “These poems are her life, but at the same time, these are poems that anybody can relate to.”

She encourages all people, old and young, to indulge in poetry over the month of April, which is National Poetry Month.

“H Is For Haiku” is available for purchase from various sources, including Amazon, Barnes & Noble and Kew & Willow Books.

Fill the Form for Events, Advertisement or Business Listing