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"The Telephone Conversation" poem:

The price seemed reasonable, location
Indifferent. The landlady swore she lived
Off premises. Nothing remained
But self-confession. "Madam" , I warned,
"I hate a wasted journey - I am African."
Silence. Silenced transmission of pressurized good-breeding. Voice, when it came,
Lipstick coated, long gold-rolled
Cigarette-holder pipped. Caught I was, foully.
"HOW DARK?"...I had not misheard...."ARE YOU LIGHT OR VERY DARK?" Button B. Button A. Stench
Of rancid breath of public hide-and-speak.
Red booth. Red pillar-box. Red double-tiered
Omnibus squelching tar.
It was real! Shamed
By ill-mannered silence, surrender
Pushed dumbfoundment to beg simplification.
Considerate she was, varying the emphasis-
"ARE YOU DARK? OR VERY LIGHT" Revelation came
"You mean- like plain or milk chocolate?"
Her accent was clinical, crushing in its light
Impersonality. Rapidly, wave-length adjusted
I chose. "West African sepia"_ and as afterthought.
"Down in my passport." Silence for spectroscopic
Flight of fancy, till truthfulness chaged her accent
Hard on the mouthpiece "WHAT'S THAT?" conceding "DON'T KNOW WHAT THAT IS." "Like brunette."
"Not altogether.
Facially, I am brunette, but madam you should see the rest of me. Palm of my hand, soles of my feet.
Are a peroxide blonde. Friction, caused-
Foolishly madam- by sitting down, has turned
My bottom raven black- One moment madam! - sensing
Her receiver rearing on the thunderclap
About my ears- "Madam," I pleaded, "wouldn't you rather
See for yourself?"

In the first paragraph, summarize what is happening in the poem. In the second paragraph describe how the poet uses word choice and silence to mark the change in attitude of the narrator from the beginning to the end of the poem. Include in your answer specific words or phrases which mark this change in attitude.

  • English -

    How can we help you with this assignment? What, specifically, has confused you?

  • English -

    I don't know what the poem means or is about really.., it don't make sense.. and it wants me to summarize what happening in the poem but i don't understand it..

  • English -

    It appears to me that someone is calling about renting a room or an apartment. The telephone conversation is going well until the caller mentions that she/he is from Africa. The tone of the conversation changes immediately as the landlord asks if the caller is dark-skinned or light skinned, in a negative way. The caller is offended and the conversation takes a very different tone. Reread with those concepts in mind.

  • English -

    The caller asking about the apartment for rent is apparently calling from a pay phone. Don't be distracted by that. You may not know what a pay phone is. They used to be common, before cell phones. One put coins in a public telephone to purchase minutes to make a call. In the United Kingdom phones like that were in phone booths (protected from weather and to provide privacy) that were pained red, thus the "red box."

    The color red is often associated with anger. Is the poet's use of the color red symbolic of the caller's anger about the obviously racist attitude of the landlord?

  • English -

    Um i guess..

  • English -

    Reread the poem as many times as you need to, very carefully, and look for words, the poet's use of language, to indicate how the conversation changes from the first to the second stanzas. Look for words like "red" that have meaning.

  • English -

    Like, Red booth. Red pillar-box. Red double-tiered?

  • English -

    Yes. But there are other words too. Other language that communicate the change in tone and the nature of the conversation. "Red" is only one. The caller is "seeing red", and so how does that change the conversation? WHY is she seeing red? How does she react?

  • English -

    She's um angry?

  • English -

    What do YOU think? Do the words mean nothing? Just ink on a page or marks on a screen? You are asked for YOUR interpretation.

  • English -

    hmm ok. I think i get it..

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