Adrienne Rich’s “Trying to Talk with a Man” is a compact and powerful poem consisting of thirty-nine lines arranged in nine stanzas that vary in length from one to seven lines. The poem describes a conversation between a man and a woman who have gone out into the desert where bombs are being tested. As the title indicates, this conversation is difficult: The speaker is “trying” to talk and perhaps not succeeding. Each of the two people in the poem, a man and a woman, sees the other as dangerously threatening; communication has broken down.
Almost all the poems in Diving into the Wreck are cast in the form of dialogue. This poem is the first in the volume, and it sets the book’s tone. As its title indicates, conversation is a central metaphor. Whereas several of Rich’s earliest poems speak about women who are silent and defer to men (such as “Aunt Jennifer’s Tigers” and “An Unsaid Word” in A Change of World, published in 1951), the woman here is the active initiator of the discussion. “Trying to Talk with a Man” is about the dangers of an accelerating arms race, but its deeper subject is the creation of a real dialogue between men and women. The poet becomes Woman trying to talk with Man, as she calls upon her counterpart to join her in the task of questioning and redefining the habitual thinking about issues of gender and power.
The poem’s conversation takes place in a barren desert where bombs...
(The entire section is 507 words.)