Ferlinghetti, a traveller from space in Marrakesh

In an extract on the website Longreads from his forthcoming book Writing Across the Landscape, the poet and painter Lawrence Ferlinghetti reports on arriving in Marrakesh knowing nothing of the place, “like a space traveller in a time warp”:

“Sometimes it is better not to know anything about a country when you visit it. Especially it is important not to know its language or languages. Thus every sound, striking the ear like a small bell or animal cry, without any associative meaning, takes on the immediate quality of poetry, the quality of pure color in painting, with the percussive effect of pure sound in a void.

“It is only as these sounds accumulate inside us that some sort of composite meaning forms itself. Until then, we are like children newly arrived on earth, with virgin timpani, each a tabula rasa upon which all has yet to be written. Herein lies the true fascination of travel, not in the confirmation or contradiction of what we have been led to expect by the perusal of history or the learning of local languages, neither by the recognition of native customs in their similarity or dissimilarity to our own, etc., etc.”

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