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29 Variations On Hard Times

February 2024
1min read

Something Permanent

photographs by Walker Evans, poetry by Cynthia Rylant, Harcourt Brace, 63 pages, $16.95 . CODE: HTB-2

Looking at a Walker Evans photograph of two teen-age boys holding watermelons at a roadside stand, the poet Cynthia Rylant imagines an inner life for them: “They both loved the same girl, / but she wouldn’t have either of them / because she was married—/and to the store owner by god,/ so it wasn’t worth thinking about./But at night,/they each stretched upon a bed/and had her, / had her whole and leisurely.” “Boys” is one of twenty-nine short poems Rylant has written to accompany Evans’s classic Depression-era scenes. Like the pictures that inspired them, the poems are plain and full of humble detail. Some consist of only three or four evocative lines. Rylant, who grew up in rural West Virginia, makes up plausible scenarios for Evans’s hitchhiker, his pair of work boots, a barn with peeling circus signs, man-and-dog tombstone figures, a town gun shop, and an empty cabin bed.

Evans’s photographs are richly reproduced here. The publisher is targeting young adults as part of its audience for this book, but these memorable pictures and clear little poems stand outside any category.

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