Wole Soyinka

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

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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?”

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