The Seminal Transmission of Orphic Ghosts:
Garry Thomas Morse's 'After Jack' Reviewed

After Jack by Garry Thomas Morse, Talonbooks, 184 pages, 2010 | ISBN-13: 978-0-88922-630-2

Review by Lisbeth Cheever-Gessaman

Cover: The martini glass as modern-day Grail. Perhaps as counterpoint to Spicer’s ignoble death in 1965 from acute alcohol poisoning (last words: ‘My vocabulary did this to me’), or as insinuation to the book’s own 'Holey Grail' contained within, we can determine only that the vessel is topped with a clear libation, a suggestion. Whether water or vodka is uncertain; what can be drawn is that there is no empty. Rather, in mock transparencies, it is a glass, like this book, full of ghosts.

And so begins "After Jack", a palimpcestuous serial entanglement of ritual enlightenment, ensconced in translations and transformations, as summoning cantos around the fugue-ghost of Jack Spicer, Berkeley Renaissance poet.

Open book at random:
'Please overlook the letters riddled with riddles.'
And again:
'You crave particulars, but is this how you divine the future?’
In solitary and disconnected gestures, one cannot help but ascertain a clamant secretum, a poet-as-oracular dissonance within its pages. As a medium, its medium serves adequately as its own medium and medium; fitting as the 'Jack' in 'After Jack' refers to Jack Spicer, barroom soothsayer and self-professed poetic channeler of the Berkeley Renaissance. Before Morse was a mote, Spicer delivered a series of lectures in Vancouver (Morse's stomping grounds) in which he revealed the poet as medium more than artist, inferring a certain talent—nay, absolutism—to receptivity as priority over composition. Far too clever for its own good, After Jack is a large rabbit-eared radio, indeed.

Adopting Spicer's philosophy and techniques, and with its own nod to Spicer’s After Lorca, Morse weaves narrative assemblages and textual mirroring as the primary jumping off point. Clever wit and pundits intermingle with riddles, fragmented insinuations and dervishes spun like juggernauts at the ball. Bits of glitter blend with imposition and flotsam, and once engaged, you are along for a sometimes sparkling, oft looming (but never boring) ride.

Like Spicer, Morse seems fond of the 'verge extreme' as counterpoint, and deftly interweaves posthumous letters both from and to Spicer throughout its context , in which the reader is forced to observe and draw their own conclusions based on whatever they know (or do not) of Spicer’s work and philosophy rather than any experiential, purposeful delivery. A post-modern game of shades ensues, and in the spaces lie explicit and exquisite gestures as montage; shadow photographs that move as if caught unaware:
I want the essence of wet I want the remnants of breath
I want the night to shut my eyes I snatch the flower from my heart
Morse is adept at this game of words, and his work assumes a prescient agriculture, a field of Spicer as toiled and tilled by his own seed. There are murmurs, elegies and consecrations; letters and translations as brusque and infinite in spectral comprehension as the recursions of the spirit and the subconscious mind.

Glints of somber prophecy can and do prevail in the maelstrom, and read as bittersweet poignance particularly as regards the ADHD zeitgeist:

We live in such an age of interruption there is more time spent on the particulars of getting together than actual meetings. Once the poem had an aim, an ambition of sorts, a confirmation of See you there on such & such at so & so & now it just shivers,

The antique vanity continues to exist without its mirror. Some nights I can hear its namesake breaking.
Its own collection of one night stands, Morse manages to blend the popular with the populist, arrogance with uncertainty and intersperses a reverence to language that can only be described as implicit in its irreverence. The mote of light as well as dust as well as grime as well as rotten and clotted blood are captured and forced to pose in infernal and unerring honesty, if not simplicity. Aftermaths are never ignored, but encouraged. What comes next, and just whose ghosts these are, can only partially be surmised.

In one word? Insinuation, emphasis: sinew. After Jack is a ramping ripple of sinuous tissue, a specter of postmortem fleshbit that leaves one guessing as to which part precisely is which while never knowing what belongs to whom, but even in the unidentifiable indelible, tantalizes the reader toward an uncertain sense of wanting more.

Or to mimic its own mimetic: Wanting Mor/s/e.