Discuss the poet's experience with the lady in the poem "Telephone Conversation" by Wole Soyinka.Telephone ConversationWole Soyinka...

Discuss the poet's experience with the lady in the poem "Telephone Conversation" by Wole Soyinka.

Telephone Conversation
Wole Soyinka


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Karen P.L. Hardison eNotes educator| Certified Educator

The poet, or the poetic persona if not the poet's self, is telephoning about renting a flat in England ("public hide-and-speak. / Red booth. Red pillar-box. Red double-tiered / Omnibus") and to save himself the agony of a trip that ends with the disappointment of being rejected on the basis of his race, he says, "“I hate a wasted journey—I am African.”

The silence--probably expected--that greets the poetic persona makes him feel "caught"--foully caught, as though for a crime--by the pressure of civil though distanced response:

Silenced transmission of
Pressurized good-breeding. Voice, when it came, 
Lipstick coated, long gold-rolled
Cigarette-holder pipped. Caught I was, foully.

The last three stanzas are devoted to the shame inducing queries ("Shamed / By ill-mannered silence, surrender / ... / to beg") of the anonymous "Lipstick coated" woman on the other end of the phone to qualify his skin color: "HOW DARK?" The poetic persona then says that, beneath the "crushing" attitude, silence and questions, he replied that he was "West African sepia," a reply that of course needed more clarification, a clarification that ends with the poetic persona describing his "peroxide blonde" and "raven black" bodily portions and pleading amidst a "thunderclap / About [his] ears":

“Madam,” I pleaded, “wouldn’t you rather
See for yourself?”