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Photograph by Tom Bramer
The author in front of 55 Eltisley, Sylvia Plath and Ted Hughes' first home together.
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Cover image courtesy of the author and Steven F. Austin University Press
Fixed Stars Govern a Life
“I’ve brought my chief holy books,” Julia Gordon-Bramer laughs, opening her bag and pulling out Ariel, Sylvia Plath’s Collected Poems, and her deck of Tarot cards. They’re the jumping-off points for her new book, Fixed Stars Govern a Life: Decoding Sylvia Plath, out this month from Steven F. Austin University Press.
Fixed Stars Govern a Life is Julia Gordon-Bramer’s “life’s work,” but it all started as an end-of-semester project in her graduate school days. Gordon-Bramer, a St. Louis area poet and Tarot card reader, has been researching the ties between Sylvia Plath and Tarot since she wrote about it for a class final in graduate school.
“What I have been seeing for the over seven years I’ve been working on it now, is that everybody has missed the point of Plath,” she says. “They’ve been reading her only in this very sort of superficial, emotional drama context.”
When she began the project, she opened Ariel and saw that the first poem, “Morning Song,” reflects the Fool card, the first in the Tarot deck:
Love set you going like a fat gold watch. / The midwife slapped your footsoles, and your bald cry / Took its place among the elements.
—Sylvia Plath, “Morning Song”
Per Gordon-Bramer’s findings, the fat gold watch parallels the gold imagery found in the Fool card, the first in the Tarot deck. The Fool is the sacred child, just beginning his journey of life as card zero, much like the baby born at the beginning of Sylvia Plath’s “Morning Song.” The list of connections goes on. Gordon-Bramer found the next 21 poems in “Ariel” match up with cards one-to-21 in the Tarot deck. The rest of the poems corresponded with the suits and face cards.
“I think one perhaps has to be both a Tarot scholar and a Plath scholar to have initially seen it. So there can’t be a lot of people like me,” Gordon-Bramer says.
She suspects academia missed this discovery before now because the collection as Plath intended it wasn’t released in its original form until 2004, restored by Plath’s daughter, Frieda Hughes. Plath’s husband, Ted Hughes, initially published Ariel after his wife’s death, and rearranged and reselected the poems for it.
Despite the effort she’s poured into researching her book, studying history, science, literature and mythology, Gordon-Bramer faces skepticism from the academic world.
“I had expected to be embraced,” she laughs. “Oops. Called that wrong as a fortune teller.” Still, she says, there is a way for skeptics to read and understand her points.
The tie between each poem and corresponding card is broken into six facets, or “mirrors,” as she chooses to call them. The “mirrors” to history and the arts and humanities, Gordon-Bramer says, is where people doubtful of or confused about her work should start. She suggests reading the book a little bit “backwards.”
“Read the history. Read the arts,” she says. “And then if you want to understand how I found it, you can read the rest.”
Fixed Stars Govern a Life comes out this month, and is available for pre-order from a variety of online booksellers; find more info on that, as well as the book itself, visit fixedstarsgovernalife.com.