There are no prizes for guessing what a poem titled “The Unemployed Man Who Became A Tree” might possibly be about–indeed the title is almost a story in itself. Such clear and no-nonsense assignations are common in Kevin Pilkington’s recent collection, named for the aforementioned poem, and published by Black Lawrence Press.
The Unemployed Man Who Became A Tree is divided into three sections, each of which occupies a different setting. The poems in “I: Street Music” take place in New York, and seem to be dominated by loneliness, isolation and the mercilessly busy life of the city. Next comes “II: Parthenon”, set in Greece. This short section consists of just seven languid and sun-soaked poems, putting me in the mind of a brief holiday, before returning to America–though this time to somewhere much more coastal and suburban–with “III: The View From Here”.
Though the tone of the poems varies with their location, they all share certain similarities. Generally speaking they are affectionate and observant, chronicling a journey that the narrator (it would be my guess that the narrator and the writer are one and the same, but I may be mistaken) is taking. His time in New York gives way via a holiday (or perhaps a honeymoon) in Greece to a more settled existence with his wife in Florida. Along the way there are occasional whimsical flights of fancy, but these are rare, the titular poem being one of the only examples. For the most part it is a poetic life journal, observing with keen eye and uncanny turn of phrase the strange or curious happenings of the everyday.
In many ways the collection put me in mind of a novel in verse, both because of its clear narrative structure and because of the straightforward written style. Indeed, in places the poetry felt more like prose that had been speckled with line breaks. Experimentally I tried reformatting a few of the poems into paragraphs and found that they read just as well without lineation; I even enjoyed them a little more when my brain wasn’t unconsciously seeking to read them as verse. With the strength of these pieces being in the story they describe, the poetic format added little, and occasionally distracted, though not to the point of limiting my enjoyment of an excellent collection.
However you choose to read it this book is a solid body of peaceful, measured observational poems. More than anything it’s a relaxing read, full of small marvels and everyday mysteries, and the occasional bit of magic.