Walker Evans and Cynthia Rylant form a simply magical rapport in Something Permanent. Cynthia Rylant’s connection to the photographs is quite eerie given that the book came to fruition after the passing of Walker Evans. It’s as if she has studied the photographs for hours, interviewed Evans, painstakingly plucked the hidden words from the pictures, and shaped them into poems. The poems and photographs surrounded me, and as an outsider separated by experience, time and distance, it became possible for me to walk within the worlds created by Evans and Rylant. It was a struggle to come back, but I had to so I could tell you to come with me next time.
Evans’ photography is stark but dense. It isn’t tidy, and sometimes the disregard is a sharp punch—the tongue of a worn out shoe, a crude grave, signs shredded with weather’s indifference. Oh, but Evans knew his lines; he was an instrument of light, and his photographs tell you this. His rocking chair isn’t just an object. It still contains the person who sat there, not the humanness of the person but the presence, the light. The light could even be me or you leaving the room or the century, but only as our physical selves.
Cynthia Rylant’s poetry reflects Evans’ photography, yes, but it also tells us a story, a thread that reaches spectacularly for the truth. Her words, like Evans’ photography, are simple but saturated and sprinkled with grit—a barbershop masquerading as heaven, the tight clutch of grief that materializes in a pair of shoes and later, a hat. While Rylant did not experience the depression, her poems say otherwise. Clearly, Walker Evans’ light is still reaching. It is reaching through Cynthia Rylant.