The Nomenclature of Small Things

Here are poems quietly wise, beautiful, beguiling, and enriched by the peculiarities and spectacularities of science. Guiding them is a poet tough-skinned but tender-hearted. In giving accounts of a wide array of ALIVE-in-our-world, Lynne Pedersen’s poems shimmer. And among the multitudes of creatures, we find grief to be but another animal “that can depart and return with a soft shudder of feathers.” These are poems to savor and/or devour.

—Nance Van Winckel, author of Pacific Walkers


This is a book of wonders small and large—last glimpse of the dodo, the fossil dickinsonia, the passenger pigeon, theories of rain and the evanescence of clouds.  It is also book about disappearances: “this feeling of always having just lost something or someone.”  And how shall we measure that?  By math and science, order and ordering, an evidence of surfaces, catalogues, naming? Lynn Pedersen writes movingly of our efforts to try and quantify the “mechanics of extinction,” but aren’t we really, she asks, trying “to pin down the indefinite, the intangible, / the unattainable—to hold fast”?  To stay, to grieve, to live . . . .   This is a book in which mortal things matter enormously.  Against the loss of species, against miscarriages, against disappearance: these poems of intelligence, sadness and beauty.  I loved this book.

Nancy Eimers, author of Oz


“For its breadth and passion, its vision and architecture, one combining evolution, biology, history, religion, and geology, Lynn Pedersen’s The Nomenclature of Small Things is one of the most moving first books that I have read in years. ‘The Infinite Density of Grief’ infuses her vast canvas with memorable color and phrase: ‘If I whittle myself down / to marrow, nucleus, mitochondrion– / What’s the right word / for the smallest pocket of self?’”

–Mark Irwin, author of Large White House Speaking


In The Nomenclature of Small Things, Lynn Pedersen’s poems reach both into the mind and the heart, but for all science is and knows, it provides no relief from the “density of grief.” It’s science—in a flood of fluorescence—that allows us to see “the tiny white form curled / into itself, pressing up / against the glass / like a moth resting / on a windowpane / because it sees light.” The one constant, however, through all these poems, in spite of “the feeling of always having lost,” “the feeling that something’s being doled out, luck or fate, without equal chances,” the feeling of “never finishing as the moon slips away,” is the figure of a woman and her story “all about getting somewhere / (and maybe back again), with your hide [read heart here] intact. Otherwise, / there’s no one to tell the story.” . . . And it’s a story we are all lucky Pedersen has taken up paper and ink to tell, a story that reverberates with its calculus of survival that continues to expand in us long after we’ve put down the book.

—Ginger Murchison, Editor of the Cortland Review and author of a scrap of linen, a bone


Available from University Press of New England.