Without their knowing, a handful of 19th century poets and authors have provided comfort to Beth Robbins. In fact, several Romantics and the Transcendentalists of that time provided a lens that not only allowed the Berkshire Waldorf High School English and drama teacher to process grief she experienced following the loss of her husband, but also developed something she didn’t expect: her voice. And on Saturday, Dec. 7, Robbins will celebrate the launch of that voice in her first book, “A Grief Sublime.”
The book opens on a night in September 2015 — the night her husband, Steve “Sproutman” Meyerowitz died. Meyerowitz succumbed to injuries sustained in a two-car crash in Falls Village, Connecticut. On that muggy evening, Robbins recalls the flashing red lights of a police cruiser that pulled up in her driveway and the trek that the two officers made to her doorstep to deliver the devastating news.
“And they see me,” she writes. “I turn to stone.”
While attending Oxford University, Robbins says she began to play with form and discovered the permeability of what she describes as “once-perceived boundaries.” Her professor pushed her to explore her grief. In doing so, she began to weave her own voice in conversation with poets John Keats, Walt Whitman and Emily Dickinson. The process, she says, was a liminal realm experience.
Though Robbins had always been a self-described groupie for Keats, following Meyerowitz’s death, Keats’ words resonated in a different way than they had once had, she said. One of Keats’ most acclaimed works, “Ode to a Nightingale” became a bit of a mantra for Robbins.
Shortly after Meyerowitz’s death, Robbins says she started journaling.
“… Exploring this grief was incredibly moving,” she said. “And I was surprised at the power that [my words] was having on people.”
In 2017, the Bread Loaf Journal published her personal essay,“Fragments in Liminality: A Lover’s Discourse.” And the combination of that experience at Oxford, that essay and that journaling was expanded and morphed into a book.
Once she decided she wanted to share her work as a book, Robbins stuck to a rigid routine. After teaching at day at school, she’d come home in write at least 5oo words, in bed, every day, much like Mark Twain or Edith Wharton, she said.
And though the book delves into her grief, Robbins says A Sublime Grief is not a “grief book.” Through her exploration, she found herself smiling at how she met Meyerowitz, their nearly 30 years together and the family they created, all of which Robbins shares in her book in a lyrical and narrative style.
“When Steve died, my whole world broke apart. It was a sudden and unexpected event. And my writing style and journaling at that time is just that: fragmented and shattered,” she said. “The fragmentation, or, perhaps better said, the shattering of my world led me to look for conversation, reconnection, dialogue. ’My poets’, as I began to call them, offered me solace. They spoke to meaning and purpose. Somehow Steve’s death allowed me to (re)discover my strength.”
Robbins’ exploration also led to the formation of Keats & Company Publishers LLC earlier this year. The mission behind this new pursuit, she says, is to publish works from a diverse group of new and established voices that will shatter and redefine labels of fixed literary genres like fiction, non-fiction, poetry and memoir. In addition to A Grief Sublime, Robbins is working on another book she hopes to release early next year.
The creation of the book has also led to working with Oscar-winning film director and Academy Award-winning documentary filmmaker and cinematographer Cynthia Wade, who hosted a screening of her documentary, “Grit” at this year’s Berkshire International Film Festival. Wade currently has a film in post-production under the working name “Sprout,” based on Robbins’ book and stars Robbins.
“It’s totally wild,” said Robbins laughing, noting that she was still surprised looking back at Wade asking her to make a film about the book.
A Grief Sublime will be launched at an event held at Shakespeare & Company’s Elayne P. Bernstein Theatre, located at 70 Kemble St. in Lenox, on Saturday, Dec. 7 from 4 to 6 p.m. Robbins will share readings from the book and will be joined for a panel discussion featuring Wade; actress Karen Allen, who is also the narrator of the audiobook version of Robbins’ book; actor James Warwick, who also reads selected poems in the audiobook; and best-selling author and producer of the audiobook, Alison Larkin. Rob Kelly will also be playing piano. The event is free.
Paperback copies of A Grief Sublime are available for $20. Audiobooks are also available online. Both are available at the launch or by ordering online at keatsandcompanypublishers.com.