To the Freemasons and Other Verses is a compilation of 377 brief poems that cryptically consider people as diverse as Alan Turing, John Hampden, and Whitney Houston, places as distinct as “A market town in Autumn,” and the planet Jupiter, and topics as far-flung as “Aliens,” ”Imperfect Bodies,” “The voice of Tina Turner,” and “Thick trousers.”
In his introduction, the author describes the book as a “loose arrangement of words,” highlighting the absence of a guiding motif. The work is arranged alphabetically, generally with several poems per page. Throughout, the author offers some interesting observations about aging (“Mortality/ Is mere banality”) and appreciating what life offers (“The tap drips/ I complain about the plumbing/ But we are lucky there is no flood”).
Overall, though, the poems tend to tell rather than show, and sometimes display problematic generalizations: “The black people have not learned their lesson/ like the Jews they oppress the downtrodden.” The poet-speaker’s ethos is also inconsistent, shifting dramatically from poem to poem. In “Illicit thoughts,” the speaker writes in a high-lyric style with a tone of encouragement: “I look for fellow travellers in the crowd” and “We only have our pens to lift our hearts.” This poem is followed immediately by the vulgar, single-stanza verse: “I’m gonna shit on you/ Whatever you do./ Don’t ask for mercy./ You didn’t show any.” The change in tone is often jarring and unsettling.
A few poems address the titular “freemasons.” These express strong negative emotions but provide no context for them, e.g.: “Foul Masonic scum of Tindal,/ Hippocratic hypocrites” and “You robbed me of my livelihood./ You robbed me of my house./ You robbed me of my marriage…”
Overall, the book offers an inundating reading experience. The collection would be improved if the poems were grouped thematically, with only one per page. More concrete, specific detail would also help diffuse the lecturing quality often found here. Those willing to overlook the collection’s flaws, however, will find some interesting moments here.
Also available in hardcover and ebook.