Christal Ann Rice Cooper

Christal Ann Rice Cooper
Chris on July 3, 2017

Sunday, March 29, 2015

Bette Parslow on "The Killing Fields" Dith Pran: Love, Tomatoes, Dogs, & Cats

Christal Cooper

Article 3,577 Words
Chris Cooper Interviews Bette Parslow On Dith Pran: Love, Tomatoes, & Dogs


            On March 30, seven years ago, the subject of the 1984 academy award winning film The Killing Fields, Dith Pran, 65, died of pancreatic cancer at Robert Wood Johnson University Hospital in New Brunswick, New Jersey. 


       Born on September 23, 1942 in Siem Reap, Cambodia, Pran was educated in French and self-taught in English.  He also taught himself photography, which would prove useful in future endeavors. 


       In 1960, after completing high school, Pran was hired as a translator for the United States Military Assistance Command. 
       Five years later Pran was hired as a translator for the British film crew of the Peter O’Toole movie, Lord Jim.  He also worked as a hotel receptionist at the Angkor Wat Hotel. 


       In 1970, Lon Nol, backed by the U.S., seized power of the Cambodian capital Phnom Penh from the Pol Pot’s Khmer Rouge.  Pran and his family moved to Phnom Penh where he worked as a guide and interpreter for The New York Times journalists. 


       In 1973, he became assistant to The New York Times journalist Sydney Schanberg.  


       In April 1975, the Pol Pot’s Khmer Rouge forces overthrew Lon Nol’s forces, and the U.S. withdrew its troops from Vietnam.  Vietnam was conquered by the Khmer Rouge. 



       On April 12, 1975 all remaining U.S. troops left Cambodia and the American Embassy was evacuated.  Pran, aided by Schanberg, boarded his wife and four children on a military truck to safety. 


       Pran, Schanberg, and two other New York Times journalists stayed behind to report on the war.  The streets were bloody and the Khmer Rouge became more and more powerful:  three million Cambodians were forced out of their country and many others were slaughtered.
       In late April of 1975, Pran, Schanberg, and the two journalists visited a hospital where they were arrested by the Khmer Rouge and held for execution.  Pran convinced authorities that the foreign journalists were French Nationals and, as a result, they were all released.  The four sought refuge in the French Embassy.


       Within days foreigners were asked to turn in their passports and Cambodians were ordered to leave.  Attempts were made by Pran’s journalist friends to give Pran a fake French passport but those attempts failed.  Pran was then forced to flee to the countryside.  Schanberg and his two fellow journalists were one of those last to evacuate the French Embassy.    


       By the end of April, Pran was captured by the Khmer Rouge and sentenced to a Cambodian Labor Camp for life.  He endured beatings, backbreaking labor and a diet of insects, rats, snakes, exhumed corpses, and one teaspoon of rice per day.


       The Khmer Rouge’s goal was to murder all of the educated as well as anyone who exhibited Western influence.  They hoped to recreate Cambodia as an agrarian society.  The Khmer Rouge executed anyone wearing eyeglasses, perfume, makeup, or watches.  In order to survive, Pran feigned illiteracy, denied any American ties, wore peasant clothing, and posed as a taxi driver. 
       In November of 1978 Vietnam invaded Cambodia and overthrew the Khmer Rouge.  Pran traveled back to his hometown of Siem Reap, and found that at least fifty family members had been murdered.  His hometown honored him by asking him to become village chief but he sensed they knew of his American ties and fled. 
       Shortly thereafter, in September of 1979, Pran, along with two companions, set out on a 60-mile-journey toward the Thailand border hiding from bloodthirsty soldiers and avoiding the numerous land mines, which ultimately killed his companions.  On October 3, 1979 Pran walked across the border to Thailand alone.


       Pran and Schanberg were reunited one week later at the Thailand refugee camp.  By this time over a third of the Cambodian population had been murdered by the Khmer Rouge.  Pran coined the phrase “the killing fields” to describe the corpses and skulls he saw during the 60-mile-four-day-journey. 


       In 1980 Schanberg wrote “The Death and Life of Dith Pran” for the New York Times Sunday Magazine.


       Pran testified before the U.S. House and Senate subcommittees on East Asia and the Pacific.  In 1985, the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees appointed him Goodwill Ambassador.  


       In 1986, Pran, along with his first wife, Ser Moeun Dith, became a U.S. citizen.  


       In 1997 he and his second wife Kim DePaul collaborated on a book of essays:  Children of Cambodia’s Killing Fields:  Memoirs by Survivors. 


       Pran founded the Dith Pran Holocaust Awareness Project, which is presided over today by his ex-wife, Kim DePaul.  The DPHAP’s mission is to “educate American students about the mass killing, and the reign of terror of the Khmer Rouge.”  


       Pran’s survivors are his long-time companion Bette J Parslow; ex-wives Ser Moeun Pran and Kim DePaul; one sister Samproeuth; one daughter Hemkarey; three sons Titony, Titonath, Titonel; six grandchildren; two step grandchildren; and his best friend and colleague Sydney Schanberg. 


       His remains were cremated in a private ceremony and rest at a Buddhist temple in Washington D.C.
       The one thing that will never die is Pran’s story that of The Killing Fields, described by Schanberg as “The story he cared about the most.”
       Pran gave an interview while in the hospital two weeks before his death:  Please every body the world must stop the killing fields.  One time is too many.  If they can do that for me, my spirit will be happy.”
       And Pran did have a happy spirit, especially since May of 2000, when he met English and American History teacher Bette Parslow, while he was speaking at her school.


“In fact, it was my birthday.  I stayed in the auditorium to sign late passes for my students. When I went out into the hall Pran was waiting for me. He asked my if I was gong to the luncheon. I said no, it was only for administrators and city officials, not for the teachers who had prepared the students. He said then you will come as my guest. So I did. At the luncheon he asked for my e-mail address. In an email he asked for my phone number. A few days later he called and asked me out for dinner. The rest, as they say, is history.”


       Throughout their eight years together Pran would continue to give speaking engagements.  To the public, Pran wanted every individual to remember The Killing Fields.  He wanted them to never forget how he was one amongst millions tortured by the Khmer Rouge.  He also did not want anyone to forget the three million Cambodians murdered by the Khmer Rouge.


       But this was his public persona, or rather, only the part of himself that he would willingly share to the public.  The other side of him he only revealed to those he was most intimate with and to those he trusted.  And perhaps the person he trusted the most was Parslow his companion of eight years.   Parlsow described Pran as so much more than just The Killing Fields.
       “He was a kind, funny, interesting man – almost childlike in his enthusiasm about life.  He was a very funny person – often without meaning to be.  He was a lot of fun and a constant source of joy and love of life.”
       When the two first started their romance Parslow had her two cats Slick and Annie and Pran had a Maltese named Rosee.


       She was the first pet he had ever had and he adored her.  When we had her put to sleep he cried.  I adopted Gabby because she needed a home and Pran needed a dog.  He did not like her at first because she is not really a Maltese and looks more like a terrier.  He said she has a pointy nose and doesn’t “attract”.  It wasn’t long before she won him over however.  We took her everywhere, including his son’s wedding.” 


       While Pran worked for the New York Times as a photojournalist ( a position he held since 1980) and Parslow taught English and American History, they shared a condominium together.  When they were not working, they sought refuge at their shore home located on a New Jersey island.


       “This island goes from packed to deserted in the weeks following Labor Day.  Pran loved it here.  After years of being in the public eye, he enjoyed the peace and the quiet.  We were here when he became ill in early December but stayed until late January because we knew once we left, he would never return although we never said that out loud.  We just knew."
Pran’s pancreatic cancer worsened and he had to stay in a rehabilitation hospital, which welcomed animals, enabling Pran to see Gabby. 
"Gabby and I met him at the entrance the day he was transferred there.  He cried when he saw her and for the fist time in several weeks was animated and upbeat.  There really is something to be said for pet therapy.  Gabby is usually a high energy little dog but when she was at the hospital she curled up next to him and slept quietly for hours while he pet her.”


       When Pran’s family learned of his illness, his ex wife contacted Parslow.   
       “He was estranged from them when I met him.  I decided to get them to reconcile.  When he was diagnosed his ex-wife wanted to come help take care of him.  I though it would be nice for them to have the last months of his life together to have some kind of closure.”
       With Parslow’s encouragement, Pran reunited with his family, who remained with him to the very end.
       “It was an unfair way to die but it was his fate.   At least I was able to bring his family together in the last years of his life and they were there at the end when it counted.”
       At his funeral, Parslow was saddened that her name was not mentioned.  She was even more saddened that those who spoke at his funeral could only speak of his past, back in the days of The Killing Fields.


       “I am really the only one who had daily contact with him the last 8 years.  He was a bit of a recluse.  I think that was part of the problem.   They had nothing to say new about him – just stories of the past.”
       Despite the pain of not being mentioned and not knowing the final resting place of Pran’s ashes, Parslow wouldn’t change any aspect of her relationship with Pran.
       “Pran and I were companions for 8 years.  I would not trade a minute for something more safe or traditional.”
In June of 2008, Bette was invited by Pran’s colleague, Marilyn Yee, to speak at his memorial at The Times Center in New York City.  After some hesitation, Bette accepted the invitation.  Her main goal was to reveal the major aspects of Pran’s identity that had nothing to do with just The Killing Fields.
“I waned them to know Pran as an everyday private person.  He was a lot of fun and a constant source of joy and love of life.  I miss him everyday.”
Bette, with their dog Gabby, walked on the beach for a few days, thinking of what to write, and literally wrote the speech in her head during those walks.


The only problem was how to end it.  My neighbor Maria was here for the weekend a week before the memorial.  She made that remark about never knowing any one like him again, and I knew I had my ending.”


My name is Bette.  Pran was my companion and best friend for 8 years until he passed away in March.  In my heart, he will always be my companion and best friend.
Many of you have known Pran longer, worked with him, socialized with him.  I wondered what I could share with you that you didn’t already know.  I decided to tell you about his tomatoes.
I have a house at the Jersey shore where we spent all of our summers and have lived most of the time the last two years.  The first summer he wanted to take over my flower garden to grow vegetables.  Flowers he said are a waste of time.  So we compromised, and I had a garden built for his vegetables in the yard behind the house.  It wasn’t enough.  The following year he convinced me to take down the overgrown blue spruce and put a circular garden in its place.  It also wasn’t enough.  Another circular garden followed but it still wasn’t enough.  There was no more room for permanent gardens so he announced he would solve the problem the Cambodian way – which means an ingenious, unorthodox, creative solution, 10 gallon storage boxes – 12 of them – scattered around the yard and driveway.  Last summer we had over 2 dozen tomato plants, 12 eggplants, countless peppers so hot they burned my hands when I chopped them to make salsa, cucumbers, and beans.  In other words we had a working farm.  He used to get up at 4:30 to tend his garden; weed, water, and make sure the tomatoes were secure in their cages.  Sleep, he believed, was a waste of time.  I could hear him outside talking to his tomatoes – You’re beautiful, he would tell them, You do good job, and his highest praise – You are very professional.
The tomato crop was epic – beautiful tomatoes from the small sweet cherry to his personal favorite, the mighty beefsteak, ripening daily by the dozens.  We ate them at every meal, chopped them up and froze them for the winter, made sauce, soup – there were too many.   We gave bags full to all our neighbors – there were still too many.  So, it was time for another one of Pran’s Cambodian solutions.  He began waiting at the fence for people walking back from he beach.  As they approached he would say, “Hello, do you like tomatoes?”  Their first reaction was wary hesitation but he always won them over with his disarming smile.  “Yes,” most answered.  “We love tomatoes, especially home grown Jersey tomatoes.”  “Wait here,” he would say, and disappear behind the house returning with a bag bulging with an assortment of ripe tomatoes.  Can you imagine the looks on their faces?  Disbelief.  They went off with their prize after a lot of laugher and thank you’s.  The tomato problem was solved – with good humor and generosity.
In the weeks after Pran’s funeral, our neighbors began returning to their shore houses on weekends.  Only Colleen and Frank knew of his illness.  Colleen gave Pran the famous buzz cut just before he went back to Woodbridge to be closer to his doctors and the hospital.  The others could not believe he was gone, and they were amazed to learn he was famous.  To them he was the friendly smiling neighbor who gave them vegetables from his garden, walked his dog Gabby to the beach at dawn to watch the sunrise, took long bike rides with Gabby in the special dog safe basket he ordered from sky mall, and cooked everything on his grill, including bacon and eggs.  Our neighbors Rob and Maria, like many others, rented The Killing Fields to learn more about the man Maria gossiped with over the back fence.   Pran loved to gossip.  Maria said, “Bette, what a life.  The things he’s done.  What he’s been through.  I can’t believe I complained about my in laws to him.”  Then she got very serious and said, “In my whole life, I will never meet anyone like him ever again.”  Isn’t that why we are here today sharing our memories?  We will never meet any one like him ever again.



       Since giving the speech, Bette reminisces even more about what made Pran the individual that he was and the memories they experienced together.
       “Pran loved to take road trips. We often got in the car with Gabby and set out for places like Valley Forge, Lancaster County, Jockey Hollow, Monmouth Battlefield, and Bull Run. He loved history and liked to explore places where history took place.  We were also planning to rent an RV and drive cross county with Gabby.
       The best Christmas we spent together was a few years ago. He was working that day. We went to Washington Crossing Park in Pennsylvania to take pictures of the reenactment of Washington crossing the Delaware to surprise the Hessians in Trenton. It was a beautiful day but very cold. You would not believe the number of people that were out in the cold to watch history reenacted. On the way home we stopped at a Vietnamese restaurant and ate noodle soup, spring rolls, and lok lak.


       Every year in April we went to the Cambodian New Year celebration either in Philadelphia or Camden. There is traditional folk dancing, lots of food, and monks chanting in the temple. One year we stopped at the Camden waterfront and toured the battleship New Jersey. One of the best days we spent was at the Museum of Natural History. He especially liked the exhibits about primitive man and how they developed ways to cope with their environment. His comments always began with “How in the planet?  How in the planet did they know to sharpen that spear?  How in the planet did they decide to put that meat in the fire?  How in the planet did they make that dog their companion?”  And always with a sense of wonder and fascination. It was another one of those days that I'll always remember and smile.


       Pran was more than a genocide survivor.  He was a warm, funny, unique individual.  Even though Pran is gone he left behind a legacy of smiles.”
       It’s been seven years since Dith Pran’s death, and those few years have been bittersweet ones for Parslow.  Her house located on a New Jersey island, between the ocean and the bay, survived Superstorm Sandy, but she and her neighbors had to evacuate and were not allowed back to the island until four months later; and it took even longer to get the necessary utility inspections and restorations completed.  
       The most difficult loss was that of Gabby, the beloved dog owned by Dith and herself, who was attacked and killed by a pit bull while the two were taking a walk along the beach.  Even after two years, Parslow still finds it extremely upsetting, but she has hope.
       “Gabby is with Pran now.”


       Parslow’s life is full and she is now the caretaker of three dogs:  Sabai which means good health or good fortune in Khmer; Yoda; and a special needs dog,  eleven year old Tyson.   And of course her cat Slick.



       “The sad things that happened to me are no worse than the sad things everyone deals with.  Sadness is a risk one takes when embracing new experiences.  So I guess I will pass on the quotes from poets and philosphers and go with one of my favorite figtures in history, General George Patton, and soldier on.”


Photograph Description and Copyright Information 

Photo 1
Dith Pran, Bette Parslow, and Gabby
March 2008
Copyright granted by Bette Parslow

Photo 2
The Killing Fields movie poster
Fair Use Under the United States Copyright Law

Photo 3
Map of Cambodia
Public Domain

Photo 4
Lord Jim movie poster
Fair Use Under the United States Copyright Law 

Photo 5
Lon Nol
Public Domain

Photo 6
Jacket cover of Beyond The Killing Fields 

Photo 7
Pol Pot 
Public Domain

Photo 8
Ser Moeun and children Titony, Titonath, Titonel, and Hemkarey.
This photo was taken in San Francisco upon their entry to the United States from Cambodia
Fair Use Under the United States Copyright Law

Photo 9
The Killing Fields move poster depicted the scene where the journalists are held by the Khmer Rouge.
Fair Use Under the United States Copyright Law 

Photo 10
Dith Pran in February in February 1975
Fair Use Under the United States Copyright Law

Photo 11
The Killing Fields movie poster and booklet
Fair Use Under the United States Copyright Law

Photo 12
Map of Thailand and Cambodia
Public Domain

Photo 13
The Killing Fields
Public Domain

Photo 14
Jacket cover of The Death And Life Of Dith Pran by Sydney Schanberg

Photo 15
Ser Moeun Pran and Dith Pran at his appointment to Goodwill Ambassador
Public Domain

Photo 16
Dith Pran and Ser Moeun Pran being sworn in as United States Citizens.
Public Domain

Photo 17
Jacket cover of Children of Cambodia's Killing Fields  

Photo 18
Web logo photo for the Dith Pran Holocaust Awarenss Project webpage.
Public Domain

Photo 19
Dith Pran and Bette Parslow
March 2009
Copyright granted by Bette Parslow

Photo 20
Bette Parslow and Gabby
Copyright granted by Bette Parslow

Photo 21
Bette Parslow and Dith Pran at his son's engagement party.
Copyright granted by Bette Parslow

Photo 22
Photos of the victims of the Khmer Rouge
Public Domain

Photo 23
Dith Pran and Gabby
Fair Use Under the United States Copyright Law

Photo 24
Dith Pran and Bette Parslow at the wedding of his son Tony and daughter-in-law Vornidas.
Copyright granted by Bette Parslow

Photo 25
Image from the brochure cover of the memorial of Dith Pran
Fair Use Under the United States Copyright Law

Photo 26
Dith Pran and Gabby
Fair Use Under the United States Copyright Law

Photo 27
Sidney Schanberg and Dith Pran's reunion in Thailand in October 1979.
Fair Use Under the United States Copyright Law

Photo 28
The beach in Spring Lake, New Jersey
Attributed Nick Harris
CCA 2.5 Generic

Photo 29
Bette Parslow speaking at Dith Pran's memorial service in New York City
June 2008

Photo 30
Bette Parslow speaking at Dith Pran's memorial service in New York City
June 2008

Photo 31
Family and friends at Dith Pran's memorial service in New York City.
Far left back row Sam Waterston who portrayed Sydney Schanberg in The Killings Fields
Second from the far right back row is Sydney Schanberg
Second from the right in the white sleeveless blouse is Bette Parslow

Photo 32
Painting of Washington crossing the Delaware
Public Domain

Photo 33 and 34
Dith Pran with Gabby and his tomato plants
Copyright granted by Bette Parslow 

Photo 35
Tyson, Sobai, and Yoda
Copyright granted by Bette Parslow

Photo 36
Bette with Sobai
Copyright granted by Bette Parslow.


Saturday, March 21, 2015

Professional Tarot Card Reader & Poet JULIA GORDON-BRAMER: On "FIXED STARS", Sylvia Plath, & Decoding The Truth

Christal Rice Cooper


Article 2,856 Words
Photo Descriptions & Copyright Info at the end of article.

Julia Gordon-Bramer Connecting 
To Sylvia Plath:
Fixed Stars Govern A Life:
Decoding Sylvia Plath 



Tarot card reader, poet, and author Julia Gordon-Bramer laughs at the Lincoln-Kennedy Coincidence-like events in her life with Sylvia Plath
“I was born nine months after her death on November 26, 1963.  My grandmother’s name was Sylvia. Our parents were first generation immigrants. She was American and moved to Britain. My mother was British and came to America. Her father and my grandfather both lost their left legs. I lined up all the letters in my name and hers, whether using maiden names or first marriage or even with my second marriage, and they all evened out to the same amount of letters. Weird stuff like that.”


Gordon-Bramer now feels more connected with Sylvia Plath with the publication of her book Fixed Stars:  Decoding Sylvia Plath, Volume I ((http://www.amazon.com/Fixed-Stars-Govern-Life Decoding/dp/1622880641/ref=sr_1_1?ie=UTF8&qid=1426530171&sr=8-1&keywords=Julia+Gordon+Bramer published by Stephen F. Austin State University Press (www.tamupress.com)  in 2015.


In Fixed Stars, Gordon-Bramer reinterprets Plath’s work, as understood through the Tarot’s major arcana, and examines the first 22 poems of Plath’s Ariel, The Restored Edition, Forward by Frieda Hughes


Bramer-Gordon is private about her childhood, teen years, and upbringing, but does reveal her first experience of writing, at the age of six, when she wrote to her grandparents who lived in Britain on the same thin blue airmail paper she came to work with so often in the Sylvia Plath archives.


Around the same year she began writing, she and her family moved to Maryland where she lived for the next 12 years, and, where, at the age of sixteen, she first read Sylvia Plath’s The Bell Jar, with Plath’s poem “Mad Girl’s Love Song” (http://allpoetry.com/Mad-Girl's-Love-Song) printed in the back of her copy (http://www.amazon.com/Bell-Jar-Modern-Classics/dp/0060837020/ref=sr_1_1?ie=UTF8&qid=1426531492&sr=8-1&keywords=the+bell+jar).


It was also the same age she bought her first deck of tarot reading cards in a magic shop.  That day in the magic shop at the age of 16 with her first pack of tarot cards changed her life, and for the better.  


“I was captivated by the artwork. They were just the most beautiful things I’d ever seen. For the longest time I used the little book that comes with the set, and I wasn’t reliant on my imagination or my intuition. I suppose I’ve always known I was intuitive. I’ve always known that I could walk into a room and sense if there’d been a fight or someone was in love. I’m tuned into emotions. I’ve just figured out what that meant over the years. It took some time. There is no rule book for psychic energy.”
Gordon-Bramer has been reading tarot cards ever since, but did not become a professional tarot card reader until 2007.  Before she became a tarot card reader, she worked in a variety of career fields:  marketing, advertising, public relations, technical writing, newspaper writing, and the health fitness industry.


She and her first husband moved from Washington D.C. to St Louis to later divorce; and Gordon-Bramer started an alternative music magazine in 1995 called Night Times, where she met her second husband Tom Bramer, who was the lead guitarist of a band called Radio Iodine.  She’s written a memoir about her experiences with Night Times and plans to publish it soon.



In 1999, after shutting down Night Times, she graduated from Webster University – St Louis with a degree in Literature and Language with an Emphasis on Writing as a Profession, and a minor in Communications. (http://www.webster.edu/arts-and-sciences/departments/english/)
She taught English at St. Louis Community College-Florissant Valley (in the heart of the Ferguson riot area) from 2007-2010. (http://www.stlcc.edu/FV/)
It wasn’t until she attended the University of Missouri-St. Louis, where she earned her Master of Fine Arts In Creative Writing with a focus on Poetry and Fiction in 2010 that she became a Professional Tarot Card Reader.
“I was in graduate school, and I would bring my cards into class sometimes just goofing around. We had a Christmas poetry party, and it was hilarious because you get a bunch of poets together and a couple bottles of wine, and I had the whole party in tears. It affected a lot of people on a very deep level. My professor saw this and said, ‘You need to be doing this professionally.’ He brought me into some of his other classes to read for them at different events. Then I started having people ask me to do their parties, so I thought, “I’ll have to come up with some kind of price for this stuff.” It just grew from there.”


Gordon-Bramer defines the tarot as a set of symbols and archetypes that work across every culture, without excluding anyone based on race, ethnicity, gender, or sexual preference.
“Everyone has a wise man, everyone has lovers, everyone has mother figures. These things represent the story of life and tarot breaks that story up into little pieces. I liken it to dream interpretation. The human brain wants to make connections. The brain wants to find meaning in everything. So when I put your tarot cards down, and I explain what I see, you’re naturally going to look to how that fits and make it work for you.”


She now has clients worldwide (including Hong Kong, Germany, and the Netherlands) with whom she connects everywhere from meetings at the local St. Louis coffee shops to Skype sessions, phone conversations, and email readings. 


Since then, Gordon-Bramer has been listed as one of St. Louis’ Top Ten Psychics, made television appearances on MTV, Nickelodeon, many local TV and radio programs, websites, magazines and newspapers. 


Around the same time period she became a Professional Tarot Card reader, Gordon-Bramer identified Sylvia Plath’s intentional alignment with the tarot. 


“I saw the relationship to the tarot clearly. At that time, I did not know anything about Qabalah. But I’d lined up all 22 of the major arcana poems, and knew that Plath was too much of a perfectionist to have just thrown in another 18 poems randomly.


In the tarot there are 56 cards in the minor arcana, however, so it wasn’t very clear at first.  Then I realized she had used a poem for each rank: the ones, the twos, and so on.  There are four suits, four cards in each rank, followed by the court cards of Pages, Knights, Queens and Kings.  I had four poems left, Plath’s famous Bee Poems, and these represent the suits themselves: the Pentacles, Wands, Swords and Cups."


In fact Fixed Stars, Gordon-Bramer builds the case that it was Plath’s intention to deliberately write the Ariel poems in this way, each line of all of the Ariel poems revealing and corresponding with the six mirrors of Qabalah – in other words, each poem can be read six different, yet-related ways: Tarot/Qabalah mirror; Alchemy mirror; Mythology mirror; History and the World mirror; Astrology and Astronomy mirror; and Arts and the Humanities mirror.  


“Qabalah is an umbrella term that covers all the occult sciences, and tarot is just a way to understand oneself, others, and where your energy is going. I am lately calling Qabalah “God’s Social Network.” Think of God at the top of the tree of life, the Big Brain with the messages, and each path and point of the Tree might be Facebook, Instagram, Twitter, email, etc. Only we’ll call them Astrology, Alchemy, and the like. Different styles for different audiences, but related messages with the same overall intention.”


"I do remember the moment when it all came clear for me: I was teaching English at St. Louis Community College. It was final exam time and I was working on Plath while the students tested, quietly noting the correspondences and matches Ariel had with tarot cards and symbols. The room was empty by the time the truth of the final Bee Poems hit me. I was so happy I began to cry. It was too beautiful. I had no one to share it with, and yet I knew this would change my life.”


She read and re-read all of the Ariel poems, feeling each word, and trying to understand all of its meaning; though sometimes this was difficult, she still was able to feel the poem.
“I think that feel and understanding are two different, yet complementary, things. Certainly the feel helps with the understanding. We all feel Plath’s “Lady Lazarus” (http://www.poetryfoundation.org/poem/178961) to be a feminist poem, for instance. You can’t read that last line, “And I eat men like air” and not feel female power. 


But it’s not until you have the Qabalistic structure that you can see it’s a poem aligned with the Lovers card, which prominently features the goddess Aphrodite. Aphrodite has many other names:  Venus and Lucifer, for example.


And then we can read the Plath poem and understand that in “Lady Lazarus” she is talking about the planet Venus, the only planet named after a woman in our Solar System, and a planet that turns in the opposite direction from the others.



This planet was named after the goddess Venus, who is sometimes called Aphrodite or Lucifer. Venus/Aphrodite/Lucifer’s alchemical element is copper, also in Plath’s poem, and Plath has also woven in the story of that very famous copper-plated statue of Lucifer standing in the harbor of New York City, the Statue of Liberty.


And who’s the poet who wrote the “Give Me Your tired, your poor, your huddled masses…” poem on the plaque at the bottom? Oh yes, the Jewish feminist poet, Emma Lazarus. It’s all there, and so perfectly done.”


Gordon-Bramer shared her new revelation with her professor, Dr. Steven Schreiner from the University of Missouri-St. Louis.   In fact, it was Dr. Schreiner’s urging that Gordon-Bramer decided to write about her revelation as her semester-end project.
She taught Humanities at Lindenwood University from 2010 to 2012, and will teach a course titled “Sylvia Plath and the Tarot,” based on her book, for Lindenwood’s graduate writing program in spring of 2015. (http://www.lindenwood.edu/acceleratedDegreePrograms/writing/index.html)
       Gordon-Bramer wrote her own poetry during this time as well; and was named Voted Best Local Poet in St. Louis in 2013 by The Riverfront Times. (http://www.riverfronttimes.com)


Studying “Ariel”

Bound calm torpor, in this cozy cell
and drugged, woozy with weight
from twenty sentinels stacked;
their musty smell, bodies’ black
blood and hard spines cracked.
Found notations, little atom bombs
from others fallen; prisoners like me, held
within the magnanimous shifting
of gray library afternoons.
Listening to the seductive multitudes
within you, post-Tokyo Rose.
Twenty-two to my zero
in a system rigged by God
where obstacles are air,
not mushroom clouds;
the body, only thought. Talk
to me of secrets higher than
the sweet grief, Mother Japan.
Your dew tears rise to burn
from their water sign, then turn
toward my arrow. Fixed disintegration.
We fly together, solo kamikazes
the savage, true suicide ride
toward the flagging red eye,
a greater fire.

*Poem first appeared in Women Arts Quarterly Journal
Copyright granted by Julia Gordon-Bramer


       Gordon-Bramer continues to write poetry and likes to describe herself as a modernist poet who has learned everything from Sylvia Plath, and is in the process of learning more about poetry from a personal friend of Plath and her husband Ted Hughes’, Zulfikar Ghose.


     “Zulfikar Ghose is a genius writer of poetry, fiction, and essay, was a personal friend of theirs back in early 1960s London, and he is one of my favorite people on the planet. If you have not read his work, you must. I am on a mission to read and review all of his books. You can find my reviews on Amazon and Goodreads."


      One of the benefits of doing a project such as Fixed Stars, which took Gordon-Bramer over seven years to complete, is that she got to know the work, published and unpublished, of Sylvia Plath on such an intimate level. As a result, she has been able to dispel numerous myths about Plath, her life, and her poetry.


      One of those myths is that since Plath was a proclaimed atheist, she was not spiritual:  “Atheism does not mean a person is not spiritual.  Atheism denies a God, gods, or angels. It does not deny energy, or the Jungian collective unconscious, or any number of occult endeavors Plath and her husband Ted Hughes actively pursued.


      Over the last eight years I’ve been in the Plath archives reading all her diaries, calendar entries, journals and scrapbooks since childhood. She has always been into various forms of mysticism.
       Plath’s Sunday school homework in the Unitarian Church, which she said was a part of her right until her last days, included study of myth and astrology! She carved a Hermetic Caduceus in high school. Her mother studied the famous alchemist Paracelsus for her master’s degree. And that is just some of the influence on Plath before she met Ted Hughes, who pushed her further into Ouija, crystal ball scrying, bibliomancy, Kundalini yoga and meditation, visiting witches, and so much more. She worshiped Hughes up until their marriage fell apart, and his work has been widely examined for occult leanings.


      It makes sense that Plath hid her interest in the occult: she had been institutionalized, after all. She wanted to be taken seriously, she was a young mother, and witchcraft laws had just been taken off the books as a crime a handful of years earlier."




       Another misconception of Plath, according to Gordon-Bramer, is that she was a confessional poet.  
     “Ted Hughes said she was a mystical poet. From 1956 on I have evidence she consciously built mysticism into the structure of her work to give it more resonance. I have published her 1956 poem interpretations on Plath Profiles, and my decoding of her 1957 poems is about to be published.”


       Gordon-Bramer also would like to dispel myths about the tarot, one of which is that she, as a tarot card reader, is trying to conjure up sprits, when in reality that is not the case.
       “The tarot is just a tool to examine the subconscious and to show connections, belief systems, and the direction of one’s energy. I compare it to dream analysis, and it can be really helpful when one wants direction, understanding, or advice.”
       Another myth of the Qabalah and tarot is that it is a belief system, and therefore would require conversion.   Gordon-Bramer also states that one can certainly be a Christian and use tarot at the same time.
       Tarot and Qabalah are not belief systems and would only support whatever greater energy one wants to believe in.  Tarot is a tool that yes, some people laugh at, but others, like the famous psychologist Carl Jung, have taken very seriously. Plath and Hughes were very into Jung, by the way. Now, a fundamentalist Christian will probably tell you differently, because they are generally against all forms of divination.


       My spiritual life is more Buddhist than anything else, but even so, not with a temple or a sect. I study A Course In Miracles (http://www.amazon.com/Course-Miracles-Original-Schucman/dp/0976420074/ref=sr_1_2?s=books&ie=UTF8&qid=1426531629&sr=1-2&keywords=a+course+in+miracles) I read all the major religious texts, and some of the more obscure ones, and try and find the unity.  My religion is peace.”


       There are three different types of Qabalah:  Kabbala, Qabalah, and Cabala, with various other spellings.  Kabbala with a K is the Jewish and oldest brand; Cabala with a C is the Christian version; and Qabalah is the Hermetic version, from the Hermetic Order of the Golden Dawn, of which the famous writers W.B. Yeats and T. S. Eliot were associated.



       Perhaps the most difficult and painful lesson to learn was of isolation Gordon-Bramer encountered along her seven-year journey of writing this book.
     “I am glad that I didn’t know when I began how far down the rabbit hole I’d be going with this work. I probably would have run away screaming. I’ve had to give up so much, and have had almost no social life for almost a decade. There is so much to learn and to read. In my journal the other day, I wrote that I feel I am the Cliff Notes version of Sylvia. That’s the best I can do for now. I try to read deeper and more widely every day, but it is a challenge with having to make a living in the meantime.”


        She’s also experienced rejection, discouragement and skepticism along the way, specifically from the academic world:  “Academia decided long ago that Plath was only a confessional poet, merely depressive, and feminist at best. They are also viciously competitive and quick to diss a tarot card reader without a PhD. Because of this tunnel vision, no one thought to look further into Plath, and the main themes and points of her poems have gone unnoticed for over fifty years.”
       Gordon-Bramer has two adult sons and presently lives in St. Louis with her husband, Tom Bramer.  She is currently working on Fixed Stars Govern a Life: Decoding the Sylvia Plath, Volume 2; is in the process of editing The Magician’s Girl, a biography of Plath’s’ and Hughes’ mysticism; and working on Plath’s earlier poems, which may or may not become a book.



      *Excerpts from Fixed Stars Govern a Life: Decoding Sylvia Plath may be found at: https://lindenwood.academia.edu/JuliaGordonBramer

Photograph Description and Copyright Information

Photo 1
The wandering cat Julia Gordon-Bramer found in England when she was walking through the village of Heptonstall, where Ted Hughes grew up.
Copyright granted by Julia Gordon-Bramer

Photo 2
Image of President Lincoln and President Kennedy
Public Domain

Photo 3
Jacket cover of Fixed Stars:  Decoding Sylvia Plath Volume 1
Jacket cover art attributed to Amy Bautz
Public Domain

Photo 4
Jacket cover of Ariel, The Restored Edition, Forward by Frieda Hughes
Public Domain


Photo 5
Sample letter to Sylvia on the thin blue paper from the Sylvia Plath archives
Fair Use Under the United States Copyright Law


Photo 6
Jacket cover The Bell Jar
Public Domain

Photo 7
Julia Gordon-Bramer at the age of 16
Copyright granted by Julia Gordon-Bramer


Photo 8
Julia Gordon Bramer in 1994
Attributed to Loy Ledbetter
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Photo 9
Tom Bramer and Julia Gordon-Bramer, 1997
Copyright granted by Julia Gordon-Bramer

Photo 10
Tom and Julia Bramer’s wedding day on May 1, 1999
Copyright granted by Julia Gordon-Bramer



Photo 11
Julia Gordon-Bramer conducting a tarot reading card session in St. Louis.
Copyright granted by Julia Gordon-Bramer  

Photo 12
The Hermit (otherwise known as the Wiseman) card from the 1906 tarot card deck.
Public Domain


Photo 13
Juila Gordon-Bramer with her tarot reading cards
Attributed to Michael DeFilippo
Copyright granted by Julia Gordon-Bramer


Photo 14
Julia Gordon-Bramer holding her cat and with her tarot reading cards
Attributed to St Louis Magazine


Copyright granted by Julia Gordon Bramer

Photo 15
The Qabalah Tree of Life with tarot cards applied to its pathways and stations
Attributed to Julia Gordon-Bramer
Page 14 of Fixed Stars
Copyright granted by Julia Gordon-Bramer

Photo 16
Diagram of the Qabalah Tree of Life with both major and minor arcana tarot cards laid over their corresponding paths, widely known to qabalist, matched with Plath’s Ariel poems as they fit upon this structure.
Attributed to Julia Gordon Bramer
Page 15 of Fixed Stars


Copyright granted by Julia Gordon-Bramer 

Photo 17
Tarot Reading Card deck - 56 cards 
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Photo 18
Otot, a painting of the illumination of the Hebrew letters in creation
Oil on canvas
Attributed to David Rakia
CCASA 3.0 Unported License

Photo 19
Julia Gordon-Bramer writing.
Copyright granted by Julia Gordon-Bramer


Photo 20
Illustration from an 11th century medieval handbook on health and wellbeing
Image of beekeeping – tocuinum sanitatis casanatensis


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Photo 21
Close up of Botticelli’s Venus
Public Domain

Photo 22
Lover’s Card, Rider-Wiat Smith deck 1909
Art work attributed to Pamela Coleman Smith
Public Domain

Photo 23
The planet Venus in real colors processed from clean and blue filtered mariner images
Attributed to NASA’s Ricardo Nunes
February 5, 1974
Public Domain

Photo 24
Painting of Venus on a seashell from Casadi Venus, Pompei
Before 70 A.D.
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Photo 25
Statue of Liberty
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Photo 26
Engraving of Emma Lazarus (07/22/1849 – 11/19/1887)
Attributed to T. Johnson in 1872


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Photo 27
Julia Gordon-Bramer
Copyright granted by Julia Gordon-Bramer

Photo 28
Zulfikar Ghose in February of 2010
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Photo 29
Jacket cover of 50 poems by Zulfikar Ghose 
Fair Use Under the United States Copyright Law

Photo 30
Julia Gordon-Bramer at Sylvia Plath Hughes’ gravesite

Copyright granted by Julia Gordon-Bramer

Photo 31
Julia Gordon-Bramer placing a deck of Tarot cards on Sylvia Plath’s gravesite.
Copyright granted by Julia Gordon-Bramer

Photo 32
Ted Hughes and Sylvia Plath – from the jacket cover The Other Ariel by Lynda Bundtzen

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This book NOT endorsed by Julia Gordon-Bramer

Photo 33
Sylvia Plath with her two children Frieda and Nicholas Hughes
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Photo 34
Frieda Hughes 
GNU Free Documentation License

Photo 35
Nicholas Hughes’ obituary photo (01-17-1962 to 03-16-2009)
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Photo 36
Ted Hughes on March 9, 1983
Attributed to Rob Lycett
Photograph taken at the Calder High School Mytholmroyd, West Yorkshire


CCASA 2.5/2.0/1.0 Generic

Photo 37
Hand colored photograph of Carl Jung in 1910
Public Domain

Photo 38
Jacket cover of A Course In Miracles

Photo 39
William Butler Yeats in 1923
European and American Public Domain

Photo 40
T.S. Elliot in 1934
Public Domain

Photo 41
Julia Gordon-Bramer in her office
Copyright granted by Julia Gordon-Bramer

Photo 42
Jacket cover of Fixed Stars