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.)