Skip to main content

The devices that order her poems are the very ones that open the field of associations. In "Trying to Talk with a Man," the first lines seem flatly factual and public: "Out in this desert we are testing bombs, / that's why we came here." As the poem progresses, the recognition that political and interpersonal violence reflect one another grows. Political violence vents personal frustration that may itself be historically determined. Interpersonal violence is political and theatrical; its destructive, explosive testing mimics public antagonisms. In another poem a woman asks a man what he is feeling and his silent response is at once somatic and political: "Now in the torsion of your body," she realizes, "as you defoliate the fields we lived from/ I have your answer." Here in "Trying to Talk with a Man" the final lines bring these recognitions to a conclusion:

talking of the danger as if it were not ourselves as I if we were testing anything else.

These lines bring the poem round to its beginning and thereby make it whole. Yet that very unity is a trap for the poem's readers, one from which they cannot easily extricate themselves. Our pleasure in the poem as a verbal construct confronts us with a conflation of self and history that leaves us no apparent margin of freedom. Helen Vendler argues that in this volume the war is "added as a metaphor ... for illustration of the war between the sexes rather than for especially political commentary," but I believe Rich depicts the relationship between politics and personal life as more complexly interdependent. It is not even a case of two separate domains whose traditional metaphors may be used to illuminate each other. In Rich's best poetry politics and personal life act out an unstable mix of mimesis and determinism.


From Our Last First poets: Vision and History in Contemporary American Poetry. Copyright © 1981 by the Board of Trustees of the University of Illinois.