The Nomenclature of Small Things


The Nomenclature of Small Things explores grief through the language of science, history, and art. From Charles Darwin to Carl Linnaeus, from the passenger pigeon to fossil ammonites, each poem seeks to name, to enumerate, to order—to claim a particular place for the human creature in a catalog of extinction and loss.

Awards and Recognition for The Nomenclature of Small Things

2017 Eric Hoffer Academic Press Award

2017 Eric Hoffer Book Award Grand Prize Shortlist

2016 Julie Suk Award Longlist for Poetry

2016 Forward INDIES Finalist for Poetry

2016 Lascaux Prize Finalist in Collected Poetry

2017 Georgia Author of the Year Award Nominee

2017 Honorable Mention, Sheila Margaret Motton Book Prize

Praise for 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, Lynn 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

The Nomenclature of Small Things is brave, thoughtful and eloquent. It’s instructive, in fact, about how themes can intersect and evolve over a book-length collection. As Pedersen investigates the taxonomy of grief, she comes to understand the complex and countless ways we animals suffer. And over the course of these poems, her study of grief becomes something larger—a study of growth. These things, despite the title of the collection, are anything but small.”

—Joseph Holt, Pleiades

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

A moving and tender tension animates the poems, which are not wild with grief, but still saturated with it. These are poems that have been sitting with their grief for a while and that are looking to the language of science (as well as to history, mythology, and art) for answers. Here are poems that move seamlessly between Darwin (“cartographer of tails and limbs”), Goethe, Linnaeus, and Newton (“who knew / the moon and calculus needed one another?”), between multiple miscarriages and the eventual birth of a son (“And when my son is born, he balances / the chemical equation that is this world”), with quiet grief and quiet wonder.

—Jannell McConnell Parsons, Cell Press

“Lynn Pedersen’s most interesting poems explore the interface between science and language. The objectivity of scientific usage fascinates her. But Pedersen raises serious questions about the efficacy of science and its relation to human needs.”

—William Doreski, Harvard Review Online

This is a beautiful, often grim, journey told with a mastery of poetic language. Generously peppered with scientific acumen, Pederson manages to make her work both stunning and accessible. Readers are greeted with a litany of creatures. Exploring the magic of our world and all the little worlds within it, loss and despair are major characters in the title poem, but the collection rings with a declaration of hope as well. Mortality is at the heart of Pederson’s poetry, and the idea that even the tiniest of lives matter immensely is one that sits in the reader’s heart to digest long after the last page is turned. Sadness and joy, gorgeousness and brutality—these are just a couple of the contrasts displayed both technically and poetically perfectly in this slim collection.”

—The Eric Hoffer Award

Four poems from The Nomenclature of Small Things are featured at Poetry Foundation:

“A Brief History of the Passenger Pigeon”
“At Forty”
“How to Move Away”
“The Birth of Superstition” (Poetry Foundation Poem of the Day)

The Nomenclature of Small Things is available from independent bookstores and major booksellers.