Martyn Crucefix’s poem commands both its medium and its subject in a particularly impressive way. The humanist tour arrives in Ravenna is essentially a poem of one breath – no stanza breaks, no punctuation except the dash – a poem therefore which requires a particularly concentrated act of attention on the part of the reader. A poem almost of one moment – the first sight of the ‘millions of coloured stones’ which make up the mosaic surface of one of the twelfth century Ravenna churches tourists flock to see – it is also a poem of unwavering gaze – outward gaze at the marvel of the mosaics, inward gaze at the meaning of their longevity – the inward and the outward beautifully attuned throughout.
This clear focus allows the poem to begin with a sneering teenager and end with a sense of rapturous wonder, both registers perfectly at home in this one short piece. There is a confident command of ‘scope’, an ambitious imaginative geography which is excellently controlled by the restraint of the language. This writing is the opposite of the glittering sentences which (for example) Anthony Hecht uses so brilliantly in The Venetian Vespers to convey the overwhelming impact of the mosaics in St Marks. This poem prefers the language of plain thinking and response. The poet will not be deflected from his purpose by the glamour of what he could write, if he would. As a result, the words which carry the deepest mystery in the poem gleam with their own internal light: tesserae, incandescent, polished, honed.
Martyn Crucefix will be travelling from London to read The humanist tour arrives in Ravenna on our Competition Afternoon on Saturday 26th September 2015. Ahead of his reading, you might like to visit Martyn’s blog.
Martyn introduces his poem in the programme notes like this: Ravenna is on the tourist trail around northern Italy because of the startlingly beautiful mosaics in its many churches. The mosaics are made up of tiny individual blocks of cut stone or glass called ‘tesserae’.