Fleur Adcock

Fleur Adcock was a New Zealand poet who also worked as an editor.

She has work included in several poetry anthologies.

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‘The Telephone Call’ by Fleur Adcock is about a telephone conversation between the poetic persona and the “Universal Lotteries”. From the title itself, it becomes clear that using “the” instead of “a” before “telephone conversation” has a meaning behind it. This conversation has some importance in the poet’s life. It might have changed herself or might be a memorable moment in her life. Whatsoever, the poem’s simplicity and the use of humor keep one reading the poem till the end where a twist eagerly awaits for the readers.

The Telephone Call by Fleur Adcock



‘The Telephone Call’ by Fleur Adcock is about a short telephone conversation between the poet and “Universal Lotteries”.

‘The Telephone Call’ by Fleur Adcock is a short and witty telephonic conversation. The poet got a call from “Universal Lotteries” and they told the poet she was one of the lucky winners. She was going to be a millionaire or multi-millionaire within no time. Naturally, she was elated. Moreover, they told the poet of “giving way to” her “emotion”. After a moment, she realized what they were talking about might be fake. That’s why she told them when she would get the cheque or the money. Humorously, they answered they didn’t deal with money. The experience was what they dealt in and “the line went dead”.

You can read the full poem here.



‘The Telephone Call’ by Fleur Adcock consists of six stanzas each having 8 lines. It is a free verse poem and there isn’t any rhyme scheme. The poem flows with the repartee of the poet and the lottery company. Moreover, the poem doesn’t contain any specific meter scheme. This conversational poem has mixed iambic-trochaic feet. The rising and falling internal rhythm of the poem depicts the mental state of the poem that changes in each stanza of the poem.


Literary Devices

‘The Telephone Call’ by Fleur Adcock has several interrogations and lines of the poem get connected by the use of enjambment. There is sarcasm as well as irony in this poem. As an example, “Or, actually, with more than a million –” contains sarcasm. In the following lines, the poet uses irony. There are three instances where the poet uses ellipsis. In the second stanza, there is a metaphor in “top of my head” and simile in the last line. There is a personification in “We buy up the files,/ feed the names into our computer”. In the last stanza, the poet metaphorically compares the experience to a reward or prize. In the last line, there is a synecdoche.


Analysis, Stanza by Stanza

Stanza One

They asked me “Are you sitting down?

Right? This is Universal Lotteries”


not that it makes a lot of difference

once you’re a millionaire.” And they laughed.

‘The Telephone Call’ by Fleur Adcock introduces the subject matter in the first four lines of the poem. The poet received a call from the “Universal Lotteries” as she won the top prize in the “Ultra-super Global Special” lucky draw. In the last four lines, they asked the poet what she would do with a million or more than a million pounds. After saying that, they sarcastically added, “not that it makes a lot of difference/ once you’re a millionaire.” Thereafter they laughed. So, from this section, the poet gives a hint that she didn’t win any prize at all. They were just mocking at her innocence.


Stanza Two

“Are you OK?” they asked – “Still there?

Come on, now, tell us, how does it feel?”


has floated off, out through the window,

revolving like a flying saucer.”

‘The Telephone Call’ by Fleur Adcock starts to unwrap the major themes of the poem from the second stanza. The theme of appearance vs reality is present in the first few lines of the poem. There is feud in the poet’s mind about reality and the illusion of getting a million pounds. The news somehow entered her subconscious mind and awakened the nagging and angry child called greed dossing in her heart. She lost her senses and felt like her brain had floated off through the window. To present her state, she uses an image of a flying saucer.


Stanza Three

“That’s unusual” they said. “Go on.”


It isn’t every day you hear

You’re going to get a million pounds.

In the third stanza of ‘The Telephone Call’, the base emotions in the poet’s started to dominate her rational mind. She found it hard to express anything. Her throat went dry for the burning greed of her heart. The apparent truth made her so vulnerable that she even became emotional. This section presents the theme of turbulent human emotions. Thereafter, the person from the company knocked her defense of self-control down and urged her to give way to her emotions. They wanted to take her to the heights of chimeric elation for giving a life-changing lesson.


Stanza Four

Relax, now, have a little cry;


We’re Universal. We operate

a Retrospective Chances Module.

In the fourth stanza of ‘The Telephone Call’, the poet started to come out of her hallucination. She informed them that she hadn’t bought any lottery tickets in the past few years. Hearing the answer, they laughed at the poet again. They assured her not to worry about a ticket as they operated a “retrospective Chances Module”. Whatsoever, the reference to the module might have raised questions about their authenticity. The person on the call knew that. So the person described the process to the poet in the next section.


Stanza Five

Nearly everyone’s bought a ticket

in some lottery or another,


I’ll believe it when I see the cheque.”

‘The Telephone Call’ by Fleur Adcock refers to the method using which Universal Lotteries selected winners. Here, the poet presents how humans depend on luck rather than making it work for them. That’s why nearly everyone, at any point in life, buys a lottery ticket to try one’s luck. The company mentioned in the poem bought the old files from other lottery companies and entered the data in their computer for a lucky draw. In the draw, the poet’s name came out. But, the poet already recovering from her hallucination. That’s why she told them she would believe it after seeing the cheque.


Stanza Six

“Oh”, they said, “there’s no cheque.”


Have a nice day!” And the line went dead.

In the last stanza of ‘The Telephone Call’ by Fleur Adcock the poem takes an interesting twist that broke the last pillar of the poet’s greed. They replied they didn’t deal in money or such kinds of stuff. “Experiences” were what they dealt in. This section presents how memorable experiences are much precious than money. So, that was her prize that she would not ever forget. After that, they congratulated the poet and hung up the call.

Apart from that, the use of the word “dead” in the last line depicts how her baseless fascination fell apart within a few moments. Moreover, there is alliteration in the phrase, “don’t deal”.


Historical Context

‘The Telephone Call’ by Fleur Adcock is a postmodern poem that depicts how a phone call plays with human emotions. The person from the lottery company was just a catalyst. And, greed in the poet’s heart, in reality, played with her senses. Moreover, through this poem, Adcock presents human fascination with luck. That’s why they buy lottery tickets and waste their money with a dream that they will win the prize someday.


Similar Poetry

Like ‘The Telephone Call’ by Fleur Adcock (one of the most important poets of the 21st century), here is a list of a few poems that talk about human emotions.

You can also read about the poems of other New Zealand poets like Lola Ridge, James K. Baxter, Allen Curnow, Hone Tuwhare, A.R.D. Fairburn

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Sudip Das Gupta Poetry Expert
A complete expert on poetry, Sudip graduated with a first-class B.A. Honors Degree in English Literature. He has a passion for analyzing poetic works with a particular emphasis on literary devices and scansion.

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