Solving for X

By Robert B. Shaw

Winner of the 2002 Hollis Summers Poetry Prize

“His best poems come when he looks into his own heart, then explores how that heart—a poet’s heart—can encompass a nation.”

The New York Times

“Shaw‘s Solving for X in both execution and subject matter displays the sensibility of one who has thought long and productively about his craft.... Shaw‘s talent shines forth powerfully.”


“Robert Shaw's world is one in which human effort—in the garden, the workplace, the home, the soul—is always imperfect, but always forgiven. Although the voice is dependable, Shaw’s images repeatedly surprise: for instance, the hammer and nails of a man tacking up a Christmas garland, which metamorphose into Instruments of the Passion.… When Shaw finds, at the bottom of a wishing well, a ‘copper-scaled leviathan,’ I find myself wishing I’d thought of that—and of so much else in this excellent book.”

Mary Jo Salter

In Solving for X, his award-winning collection of new poems, Robert B. Shaw probes the familiar and encounters the unexpected; in the apparently random he discerns a hidden order. Throughout, Shaw ponders the human frailties and strengths that continue to characterize us, with glances at the stresses of these millennial times that now test our mettle and jar our complacency. Often touched with humor, his perceptions are grounded in devoted observation of the changing world.

As in his previous collections, Shaw in these poems unites conversational vigor with finely crafted metrical lines. Final judge Rachel Hadas says it best: “Solving for X is droll and puzzled, elegiac and satirical in equal measure. Shaw's attention alights on a variety of more and less tangible things—a seed catalog, a shirt, a bad book, a request for a letter of recommendation, an irritating colleagues’s death—which his masterfully packed lines then proceed to light up with deliberate and unforgettable authority.”

Robert B. Shaw is a professor of English at Mount Holyoke College. He writes frequently on modern and contemporary poetry. His own books of poems include Below the Surface and Solving for X (winner of the Hollis Summers Poetry Prize).

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In Series

Hollis Summers Poetry Prize

Related Subjects

Poetry · American Literature



Retail price: $16.95, S.
Release date: Dec. 2002
86 pages · 5½ × 8½ in.
Rights: World


Retail price: $24.95, S.
Release date: Dec. 2002
86 pages · 5½ × 8½ in.
Rights: World


Release date: Jun. 2009
≅ 86 pages
Rights: World