Fleur Adcock’s ‘The Telephone Call’ is a quirky poem, where the speaker receives an anonymous call that tells her she’s won the lottery! But things are not as they seem, and the poem ends with a great anticlimax. Here’s a summary of the poem!
This post gives you an insight into the core ideas of the poem, you can purchase a full study guide below to get a more detailed A* level analysis – including tasks, exercises and essay questions.
- Lottery – a type of gambling game in which people buy numbered tickets. Several numbers are then chosen, and the people who have those numbers on their tickets with a prize
- Float off – to fly slowly away in the air, or to bob away in the water
- Flyer saucer – a round, flat object which some people say they have seen flying in the sky and which they believe to be a spacecraft from another planet
- Tingle – when a part of your body tingles, you have a slight stinging feeling there – it is also the sensation that we get from ‘pins and needles’, when blood is temporarily cut off from a limb through pressure and then quickly comes flooding back
- Cheque – a printed form on which you write an amount of money and who it is to be paid to. Your bank then pays the money to that person from your account
- Deal in – the primary purpose or product of a business
In the first four lines the speaker, who is probably the poet Fleur Adcock herself, introduces the subject matter. She received a call from the “Universal Lotteries” as she won the top prize in the “Ultra-super Global Special” lucky draw. The person on the call asks the poet what she would do with a million or more than a million pounds and they sarcastically add, “not that it makes a lot of difference/once you’re a millionaire.” Then they laugh. So, from this stanza, the author gives a hint that she didn’t win any prize at all. They are just mocking her innocence.
In the second stanza, they ask the poet whether she feels well and if she is still on the phone, and they ask her to share her emotions. She says she is incredulous, but they tell her that everyone reacts this way and urge her to continue. Then she says she feels dizzy as if ‘the top of her head/has floated off, out through the window, revolving like a flying saucer.’
Read the full poem here: https://genius.com/Fleur-adcock-the-telephone-call-annotated
They notice that it is a strange sensation and ask the poet to continue. She says that she feels suffocated, that her mouth is dry and her nose itches as if she were about to sneeze or burst into tears. She is immediately reassured that she should not be ashamed to show her feelings; after all, it is rare to hear that one is about to become a millionaire.
They urge her to let her tears flow for a minute. But the speaker tells them to wait, objects that she has not participated in a lottery in years, and skeptically asks them to repeat the name of their organisation. Amused, they tell her that it does not matter that she has not participated in a lottery recently. The name of their organisation is ‘Universal’ and they use ‘a retrospective Chances Module.’
They explain the function of this module: most people have participated in a lottery at one time or another, and they are all eligible to receive Universal Chance’s prize because this organisation buys all past lottery entries and uses a computer program to draw a winner. The poet expresses amazement, but says she will not fully believe her good fortune until she receives the prize cheque.
When the poet asks about the prize money, Universal says that their lottery does not distribute money, but ‘Experiences’, therefore she is eligible to receive an incredible, exciting, and memorable experience. They congratulate the poet, say hello, and the line drops.
The speaker uses a conversational style to anecdotally recount her experience with the telephone call. It is set up initially as a kind of cold-call situation, where she is contacted randomly by an organisation who have a specific agenda. This telephone conversation seems to have a certain importance in the speaker’s life. It may have changed her perspective on life, or it has been a memorable and shocking moment. In any case, the simplicity of the poem and the use of humour make one read the poem to the end, where a twist awaits readers. From the title itself, it is clear that the author deliberately chose the use of the definite article ‘the’ instead of the indefinite article ‘an’ before ‘telephone’ to underscore its importance.
Thanks for reading! You can buy our detailed A* study guide here if you’re studying this particular poem.
Story + Summary
Speaker + Voice
Language Feature Analysis
Form + Structure Analysis
Attitudes + Messages
Themes + Deeper Ideas