I’m still playing catch-up with the books I read at the end of Juy (and being away for several days hasn’t helped); so today I thought I’d cover briefly a couple of slim volumes I squeezed in between chunkier books. Both of these books arrived at the Ramblings after chance recommendations on Twitter; I can’t now recall who mentioned the Char, but I know it was Perlalaloca2 aka Tracy who pointed me in the direction of the Piper – and both of these were wonderful reads in very different ways which jumped straight to the top of the pile as soon as they arrived!

“Hypnos” by Rene Char, translated by Mark Hutchinson

I’m not quite sure what it was about this book which particularly caught my eye, unless it was that I was in a France-during-the-War frame of mind because of the re-runs of “The Age of Reason” currently taking place on BBC4! However, poet Rene Char is a name I was aware of but don’t think I’ve read (unless he’s lurking in one of my French poetry anthologies). In his 20s he was part of the Surrealist group; during the war he served with the French artillery in Alsace; and “Hypnos” is a fragmentary work based on a journal kept by Char whilst taking part in the French Resistance in 1943-44. It’s an unusual, beautiful, movingly sad and memorable work, and despite its short length, it hits hard.

This age of ours, with its peculiar way of nurturing things, hastens the prosperity of scum, who step gaily over the barriers that society once put up against them. Will the same mechanism that now acts as a stimulus to them, on breaking, break them too, once its hideous resources have been exhausted?

“Hypnos” is built of 237 ‘Fragments’ varying in length from a sentence to a paragraph or two. In these, Char records events of the Maquis, aphorisms and thoughts on life, the world and art, as well as predictions for the future. As translator Hutchinson makes clear in his excellent introduction and notes, not every event recounted should be taken as factual; there is embroidery sometimes, to support the point Char was making. But there are harsh events, latent anger and fear for the future in these prose poems, as well as lyrical and beautiful reflections. It’s a memorable read, one I will definitely go back to.

The plane flies low. The invisible pilots jettison their night garden, then activate a brief light tucked in under the wing of the plane to notify us that it’s over. All that remains is to gather up the scattered treasure. So it is with the poet…

As for Hutchinson’s achievement, it’s clear from what he says that it was a real labour of love for him to produce this translation; and the amount of work which was put into notation is evident. An exemplary rendering of a stunning work; and whoever nudged me in its direction, thank you!

“Romney Marsh” by John Piper

I should say up front that I love John Piper’s art; in fact, I was delighted to pick up a book of his designs on a visit to wonderful Treasure Chest Books earlier this year! So when Tracy mentioned the “Romney Marsh” book I was sorely tempted to track down a copy, as it’s an area of the world I find fascinating. I did indeed source a reasonably-priced copy, and it turned out to be even better than I expected! The book was commissioned for King Penguin and published in a little hardback edition in 1950; Piper was sent down to Romney Marsh to study the area, and as well as his writings about the locale, the book is packed with sketches and colour plates of illustrations of the place – just wonderful!

The text itself is an interesting read, exploring the area of Romney Marsh and its history; the writing has an obviously post-War vibe and there are mentions of tourism starting to creep into areas of the coast. There’s also a 16 page section with ‘Notes on the Churches of the Marsh and the Cliff’, and this includes a plethora of pencil sketches of some of the buildings – I found myself wondering how many of these were left standing nowadays.

The icing on the cake, however, has to be the plates section at the end; full colour representations of 16 watercolours of various landscapes around Romney and they’re just stunning. I adore Piper’s watercolours, and to have such a wonderful selection in a lovely little book like this is just pure joy; and I despair a little of modern culture to think that this was a mainstream release from Penguin, a marvellous little hardback with dustwrapper and all this wonderful content for three shillings (I suppose that *was* quite a lot of money in 1950, but still…)

See, this is one of the things I love about BookTwitter – those random serendipitous finds that bring something unexpected and lovely into your reading life. The back of the dustjacket has a selected list of King Penguins and I’m trying very hard not to go down a wormhole with those, along with checking out what else of John Piper’s is available. BookTwitter is wonderful, but also very dangerous… ;D