Monday, April 28, 2008


I have always loved collective nouns—those interesting labels that describe groups of things, like “a pride of lions.” I think it’s fascinating to see the connection between the label and the attributes or behaviors of the item, object, or animal. Apparently, I’m not alone. Poet and professor Marjorie Maddox shares my fascination and has created 14 new poems centered around this notion in her 2008 book, A Crossing of Zebras; Animal Packs in Poetry. The table of contents says it all:

A Rumba of Rattlesnakes
A Tower of Giraffes
A Pounce of Alley Cats
An Army of Ants
A Murder of Crows
A Cartload of Monkeys
A Leap of Leopards
A School of Fish
A Crossing of Zebras
A Band of Coyotes
A Scurry of Squirrels
A Pride of Lions
A Crash of Rhinos
A Charm of Butterflies

Maddox uses a variety of poetic forms to capture the characteristics of the animal or the humor in the label, with rhymes, rhythms, and strong sound qualities that are pleasing to the ear. Here’s one example:

A School of Fish
by Marjorie Maddox

A school of fish reads in my swimming pool,

reciting ABCs and golden rules

(look both ways, be nice, no ocean duels).

They know it all—mountains to molecules:

T. rex, magic, Minotaurs, toadstools,

volcanoes, vipers, tricks for April Fool’s,

Egyptian mummies, pirates and their jewels,

strange flying saucers, robots, ghosts and ghouls.

Their dictionaries float, Old Mother Goose

quacks her rhymes and rhythms; it’s so cool

I’m signing a petition at my school—

let’s hold class every summer at the pool.

From: Maddox, Marjorie. 2008. A Crossing of Zebras; Animal Packs in Poetry. Illus. by Philip Huber. Wordsong/Boyds Mills Press, p. 19.

Philip Huber’s scratchboard illustrations add a strange and electric quality to the poems and a “Note from the Author” provides insight into the fascinating, less-than-scientific process used for coining collective nouns. Related books (like Ruth Heller’s A Cache of Jewels) and Web sites are suggested, as an extra bonus. Check it out!

Picture credit: Amazon

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