on listening to Frank O'Hara


I sometimes wonder if my own voice already sounds like it's from another era than this one, at least to the ears of friends who are much younger. Regional accents, or those of class, are not the only distinctions in common speech. Most people never think of the rich history of accents that have been determined by time. It's only in the last 100 years or so, with the invention of recording devices, that we can actually feel how the human voice changes even within the span of a normal lifetime, and be able to enjoy some of this great treasury.

Now these riches can only cumulate, as we move through more changes in one of the attributes that makes us distinctly human.

This post was inspired by hearing Frank O'Hara reading from his own work; remarkably, the recording is only 50 years old. Long ago, while listening to older films, early radio broadcasts, and later re-watching the 40s and 50s television of my own youth, I began to be aware of changes in speech patterns. I suppose I mean the sound, or perhaps the rhythm, more than anything else.

I'm always thinking of the geographical and historical contexts of everything I experience, and I know it's something most people don't share, but I think my observations on the subject are real.

My mother's great grandfather grew up in the 18th century, and arrived in the U.S. in the early-to-middle 19th; her grandfather lived into the 20th, her father was a part of that century and half of the 20th; she herself was entirely of the 20th, and my life straddles that and the 21st; even if we all had always lived in the exact same area, our speech patterns would still have been very different from each other. I wish I had recordings of each of their voices today, even if, because of the German spoken by the first three, the sounds would be of little use in illustrating the point I've been making here.

[image is from Cambridge Extra]

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Published on January 22, 2018 7:39 PM.

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