Book Reviews | Literary Arts

Katharine Coles’ “(Solve For) X” is a Glorious Gathering

(Solve For) X
, Katharine Coles’ latest collection, is loaded with lush work that is entirely captivating: I spent 10 weeks on the first poem alone — all eight lines of it.

Immobilized by its wit and mesmerizing rhythm, its delightfully puzzling message — I couldn’t bear to move on. Created in black and white with only a drizzle of color at the finish, “Accuracy” kept me returning dawn after dawn, to dip into it again and to marvel anew:

If the sky is falling
Hunt meteors or raise

Your umbrella; keep
Your head down, take cover, this

Gets worse. In your nit-
Picky life, you only ever

Wanted mountains’ endless
Flaming, a yellow eye.

Delicious, don’t you agree? AND, wait for it, there are 90 more equally superb poems from wherever it is this gem arose. Organized from “Accuracy” to “Zzzz” with diligence — but not rigidity — as an abecedarium by Coles, who is a tremendously clever poet manifestly devoted to her craft. Her art.

There is a touch of the erotic, too, in this collection that is unusual. Coles wrote in an email: “I guess I am grappling more frankly than before with femaleness, the female body, age, feminism. At this point, what do I have to lose? “

She invents an imaginary sister in just 14 lines — and having longed all my life for a sib, I wonder why I never had the temerity to do the same? Coles does add some telling stipulations:


We wouldn’t wear each other’s clothes. She
Would grow beyond me, like the rest,
And bootstrap herself to heaven. My sister
Would overlook me. She would loft opinions
With no evidence . . .

Coles has written two novels, eight collections of poetry, the essay collection The Stranger I Become, and the memoir Look Both Ways. A distinguished professor of English at the University of Utah, she is the recipient of grants from the NEA, the NEH, and the Guggenheim Foundation and has served as Poet Laureate of Utah. She was inaugural director of the Poetry Foundation’s Harriet Monroe Poetry Institute.

An interest with science and with nature (the poet walks for miles very early each morning in her forested Salt Lake City neighborhood inhabited by a variety of birds and beasts) seeps through most of these poems and offers some of the insight into the basis of Coles’ work that I long have desired: a peek at the process, the realization of it all. (Perhaps it was those 10 weeks spent with “Accuracy”?) I have needed a glimpse into the aggregation of so much perfection. How does she do it? Here, the variety of form coupled with this poet’s typical spare diction and subtle wordplay offers much to ponder, even more to simply enjoy — what a glorious gathering!


(Solve For) X
Katharine Coles
Turtle Point Press
95 pp


“Accuracy” is from (Solve for) X by Katharine Coles. Copyright © 2022 by Katharine Coles. Used by permission of Turtle Point Press. A fragment of “If I Had a Sister” is from the same publication, also Copyright by Katharine Coles.

Categories: Book Reviews | Literary Arts

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