Wole Soyinka, a Nigerian, and Brenda Agard, a West Indian, are both black poets. They want to portray their views and beliefs on colour prejudice. Although the poems are written in different decades they have many other similarities in the theme and message. ‘Telephone Conversation’ was written in the 1960s. Peoples’ views, beliefs and opinions about colour prejudice were different then from in the 1980s, when ‘Nothing Said’ was written and different again from nowadays, the early 21st Century. During the forty-year period, from the 1960s to 2004, there has been a huge change.
Youngsters today will have a different response to both poems, as compared with those in the 1960s and 1980s. Today is different, as, in the majority of instances, colour prejudice will not be tolerated, whereas the 1980s was a period where coloured people struggled to get equal opportunity. A large number of Government initiatives took place to secure this. For example, it was in this period that the Rampton and the Swann report ensured that there was equal educational opportunity for ethnic children. Going back to the 1960s, some politions, such as, Enoch Powell were campaigning to reduce ethnic minority immigration to this country.
Ethnic minority people had few rights and equality of opportunity. The central theme in the 1960s poem, ‘Telephone Conversation’, is racism. The response of students including myself to this poem is, shock about these events happening and peoples’ attitudes in the 1960s. However, students of the 1960s would find it educational. It would make them think about their own attitudes and prompt them to help society change...
its attitude in general. The poet is writing from a personal point of view, about an incident, which happened to him.
However, it is a microcosm of what was happening to black people all over the country. In this instance he is discriminated against with regards to housing, but this discrimination was reflected in education and industry in the 1960s too. ‘Nothing Said’, by Brenda Agard, has one main theme, racism. Again, she deals with one, particular incident, a black march/protest in January 1981. This incident was an example of events happening ‘worldwide’. The poet says, ‘we marched half the day’, then towards the end she says, ‘we will march all our lives’.
This shows that there will always be something to march about, in the black community. I feel that the theme of racism in this poem is being dealt with more actively, that the black people can protest and will protest. We know from a historical perspective that this perseverance and wanting to ‘march some more’ eventually resulted in equality. ‘Telephone Conversation’ is written as a dramatic monologue. Its conversational tone conveys a sophisticated message. The language is also sophisticated and the poem is better understood after several readings.
It contains no similes, however it has many metaphors, such as, ‘ill-mannered silence’, this emphasises the landlady’s cold attitude to Wole Soyinka, like the impersonal treatment one may receive at a hospital. It is a conduit, to show how the educated Wole Soyinka manipulates the white landlady, through language. He displays his own articulate use of language, such as
using, “condensing techniques”, squashing the meaning into a few words. This is used for the very strong images of all of these red, British conveniences’ Red booth.
Though we get many sophisticated descriptions of the surrounding and the landlady in numerous adjectives, the reader does not acquire a description of the man. The only thing we acknowledge is that he is African and he has a black skin. This is very important and vital, for the rest of the poem and influences the audiences’ opinion, that we should not judge people by the look of them. As it says in the pun, ‘hide and speak’, this is what we “see” of him.
But we learn what kind of a person he is “inside” his mind. He is sensitive, tolerant and has a dry sense of humour. He is clearly a suitable tenant and should not be discriminated against. Although Soyinka has done nothing wrong, the white landlady insults him just because of the colour of his skin. He turns it almost into a joke, using “tongue in cheek humour”, ‘West African Sepia’, almost joking with himself, ‘spectroscopic’. ‘Wouldn’t you rather see for yourself? ‘, implying that instead of asking stupid questions, the landlady should meet him.
The language in Agard’s poem, ‘Nothing Said’, is not sophisticated. It is simple, with much repetition, containing no similes, adjectives or alliteration. In addition, there are not many metaphors, with little onomatopoeia, ‘slashed’. The main language is rhyme and, infrequently, some rhythm, ‘we marched half the day… until the pain goes away’. Also, many of the words and verbs are repeated throughout the poem. The poet’s thoughts and the feelings of the black crowd are repeated too, when Brenda Agard comments on the word, ‘march’. All of this emphasises the message, equal rights, for blacks and whites.
Capital letters likewise add to the effect. ‘We’ is used consistently to show the unity, along with, ‘brothers and sisters’ to further show union among the black race. The whole poem is easy to understand. The language is clear and the message is clear. It is written in the third person rather than the first person, as was the previous poem, which suggests more black solidarity, which has occurred over the years, since the first poem. As well as language there are many similarities and differences in the use of tones in the two poems. ‘Telephone Conversation’ uses sarcasm, with wit and humour.
Also, it is a conversation, so, there is no rhythm or rhyme. In addition, it is overt about the topic of colour prejudice. Another difference is that it is isolated ‘I’, alone in the telephone booth. ‘Nothing Said’ uses anger and bitterness as the main tone. Unlike the ‘Telephone Conversation’, there is the rhythm of the march captured and the sounds of the protestor’s voices. Also, there are stanzas so the poem has more structure, than ‘Telephone Conversation’. In addition it is not overtly about racism. Finally, we see the poet, Brenda Agard, among a whole group of people.
In ‘Telephone Conversation’ the tone is of resignation. Whereas in ‘Nothing Said’ it is of protest and group solidarity. The structure
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