Conversation Overheard Analysis

The Poem (Critical Guide to Poetry for Students)

Quincy Troupe’s “Conversation Overheard” is an extended free-verse diatribe using indention rather than spacing to mark the breaks between sections of the single, continuous stanza. The speaker observes the repetition and stagnation of routinized American life, characterized as a “treadmill” that does not allow forward progress. Images from popular culture, especially television (“idiot tube”) images and advertisements, are used as symbols of meaningless, unprogressive experience. The speaker of the poem is asked by his “love” to consider the absurdity of commercialization and misinformation on television, exemplified by the political situation of the day: the corrupt activities of U.S. president Richard Nixon’s administration, particularly of Vice President Spiro Agnew, who is mocked and accused of being a liar and who manipulates public opinion through television. Agnew’s disingenuousness is compared to the false television commercials that glorify the success of sports figures.

The speaker continues with an extended critique of football star O. J. Simpson and his portrayal by advertisers. The mockery of Simpson is achieved through brief descriptions of commercials he made for Chevrolet automobiles. The image of Simpson running with a football and attempting to outpace a Chevrolet Corvette is juxtaposed with Simpson’s early intention to be a social worker. Simpson’s name is manipulated—“overjoyedsimpson”—and the...

(The entire section is 491 words.)

Conversation Overheard Forms and Devices (Critical Guide to Poetry for Students)

The poem is written in a free-verse form that is conversational in tone and structure. The poet is situated in relation to his “love” who, like the poet, questions the truths presented on television, which some assume to be a “bible,” a metaphor that refers to the alleged veracity of television statements. Certain metaphors and devices of language give structure to the poem, which uses satire to ridicule various personalities from popular culture and politics. The treadmill metaphor suggests the meaningless routine of American life, and expressions found in commercials are modified to achieve a mockery of the jargon of absurd television messages (for example, “no money down all we want is your life!”).

In the conversation between the poet and his “love,” the questions challenge the way the general public reacts to the hypocrisy of Nixon (“tricky dick nixon”), a symbol of deceit. The poet manipulates language to create patterns fashioned from the joining of words and the alteration of spelling: “ohjaysimpson,” “orangejuicesimpson,” and “overjoyedsimpson,” each based on the use of the letters o and j. In addition to the satirical symbolism of Simpson, the poem uses Joe Namath to discuss racism in typecasting.

The treadmill metaphor is also used to refer to those wealthier members of American society who, like the common folk, are also caught up in a relentless pursuit. The images of excess...

(The entire section is 469 words.)