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The Wet Collection: A Field Guide to Iridescence and Memory

Overview

“If a museum preserves things in part, Tevis reimagines them whole. . . . Sheer entertainment in the richest sense of the word.”
—ORION

“These linked prose pieces, arranged like specimens in a cabinet of curiosities, are concerned with acts of making—the construction of works of art, of history, of interpretation—and their relationship to the natural world. Tevis turns the concept of ‘nature writing’ on its ear, bringing to her studies of the ...

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The Wet Collection: A Field Guide to Iridescence and Memory

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Overview

“If a museum preserves things in part, Tevis reimagines them whole. . . . Sheer entertainment in the richest sense of the word.”
—ORION

“These linked prose pieces, arranged like specimens in a cabinet of curiosities, are concerned with acts of making—the construction of works of art, of history, of interpretation—and their relationship to the natural world. Tevis turns the concept of ‘nature writing’ on its ear, bringing to her studies of the objects and scenes in her wunderkammer a fresh and surprising eye and a wide range of reference. Women’s history, outsider art, geology, the Bible, posing in a beaver suit in a state park; everything fits in this delightful and deeply satisfying book.”
—MARK DOTY, author of Fire to Fire: New and Selected Poems

Using such models as Joseph Cornell’s box constructions, crazy quilts, and specimen displays, Joni Tevis places fragments in relationship to each other in order to puzzle out lost histories, particularly those of women. Navigating the peril and excitement of outward journeys complicated by an inward longing for home, The Wet Collection follows Tevis through several adventures that coalesce into a narrative imbued with the light of Tevis’s Southern upbringing.

Written with a poet’s lyricism, a scientist’s precision, and a theologian’s understanding of the world as it shifts around us, The Wet Collection is the exciting debut of a distinctive voice.

Formerly a park ranger, factory worker, and seller of cemetery plots, Joni Tevis currently teaches literature and creative writing at Furman University in Greenville, South Carolina.

Cover design by Christian Fuenfhausen.
Cover art: Untitled (Pharmacy), 1943, by Joseph Cornell.

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Editorial Reviews

From the Publisher
The Wet Collection is simply superb, the work of an innovative young writer deeply immersed in literary tradition. These linked prose pieces, arranged like specimens in a cabinet of curiosities, are concerned with acts of making—the construction of works of art, of history, of interpretation—and their relationship to the natural world. Tevis turns the concept of ‘nature writing’ on its ear, bringing to her studies of the objects and scenes in her wunderkammer a fresh and surprising eye and a wide range of reference. Women’s history, outsider art, geology, the Bible, posing in a beaver suit in a state park; everything fits in this delightful and deeply satisfying book.”
—Mark Doty, author of Firebird

Remarkable essays offering fragments of poetic lyricism imbued with a naturalist’s precision.... The true beauty of this collection is Tevis’s ability to present a diverse selection of thoughts, stories and facts within a complementary exploration of what it is to be (past, present, and future.) She’s come up with a mind-spinning collection.”
—Adam Waterreus, bookseller, Politics and Prose, Washington, DC

“In her stunning debut, Tevis illuminates the dim corners of memory as she draws attention to
the fragile connection between human beings and the mysteries that surround us. As the relationship between artifacts and living beings is laid bare, Tevis explores an inescapable human truth with exquisite, poetic prose.”
—Diane Wilson, author of Spirit Car

“Opening this book of essays is like stepping into one of Joseph Cornell’s box constructions. It is
a treasure chest of smaller containers, each one filled with the author’s muscular, graceful prose, preserving something that may have edged toward loss if not for the author’s keen observation, her religious attention to detail. . . . The wonder of following a mind that works as beautifully as Tevis’s is sheer entertainment in the richest sense of the word. . . . No doubt comparisons to Annie Dillard will surface. A few may invoke Barry Lopez or Jane Hirshfield. The Wet Collection, though, is fresher than any comparison can conjure; it is the inimitable sound of one writer listening to her own voice.”
—BK Loren, Orion

“Tevis’s writing, a showcase for her interests in religion, memoir, natural study and women’s
history, is precise and unique, and in this collection of musings, she builds big ideas out of small fragments. . . Tevis’s range is impressive: her sardonic recollection of her work as a funeral home salesperson makes for a fun essay, while in another piece she imparts a singular voice in imagining the thoughts of a farmer’s wife. Some of the pieces are too brief to make an impact, but even in the shortest, Travis shows a poet's care for cadence and word choice. Far from the typical memoir or essay collection, this volume showcases a unique, meticulous and inviting voice.”
Publishers Weekly

"In The Waste Land, T.S. Eliot refers to the disparate parts of his poem as "fragments shored against ruin." In a revealing footnote, Tevis describes a flame as "a stay against darkness"; she could be describing one of her own essays. Shored together, they provide illumination. . . . Best of all [her essays] is Building a Funeral, not least because of its moody descriptions of Houston, our fair (and sweaty) city. Funny, candid, and sad, the essay is a signal that we will be reading many more portraits and observations by Joni Tevis in the future."
—Robert Cremins, Houston Chronicle

“Tevis is a bold writer who lifts her eyes to the far horizon. . . . It is the gesture toward this bigger picture, the ‘generosity’ of being, that transcends and enriches the minutia Tevis examines. Image-based, lyrical, the book nonetheless carries the broad sweep of implied narrative, a life being lived. . . This is a marvelous collection.”
—Elizabeth Dodd, ISLE

"Offers a glimpse into the world as she observes it with her mix of scientific detachment, poetic imagery, and compassionate imagination. . . Reading this book is like taking a guided tour of an eclectic museum with an imaginative storytelling docent."
Minneapolis Observer Quarterly

"In Tevis's West, cultural and historical secrets lie dormant and only have to be uncovered to come to life. She joins other contemporary fiction and nonfiction writers in viewing the West as a nexus of contradictions and borders. . . What sets Trevis apart, however, is the power with which she delivers the form. Somewhere between prose poems and historical nonfiction dwell Trevis's compact genius."
Western American Literature

"I recently had the pleasure of reading The Wet Collection by Joni Tevis, a writer who brings something genuinely new to the craft of writing. And while I think it would be a disservice to classify Tevis as a "Southern Writer"— the settings and subjects of her work ranges around the world — I cannot help but draw pleasure from knowing that she come from Easley, South Carolina. . . Perhaps what I love most about The Wet Collection is that I can't place it in any particular genre or style."
Dislocate

"[Tevis] establishes a mood of intense longing that is the hallmark of our best writers, and the collection as a whole is strong enough to establish Tevis as a major player in American nature writing. . . Tevis's prose is vivid, muscular, and musical."
—Roger Turnau, The Southeast Review

"Tevis closely observes the natural world, from sand crabs in Costa Rica to juniper sage in Central Oregon. . . It's the image of the nature-loving collector of fossils quixotically burning fossil fuels to try to exorcise her demons that makes me see Tevis as a prophet-in-training; struggling with mortality, full of contradictions; and in these, human as the rest of us."
—Wendy Rawlings, Colorado Review

"Loaded with the pressurized language...a sort of electricity animates the writing."
—Amy Goetzman, MinnPost

"Simply superb, the work of an innovative young writer deeply immersed in literary tradition . . . a fresh and surprising eye and a wide range of reference. Women's history, outsider art, geology, the Bible, posing in a beaver suit in a state park; everything fits in this delightful and deeply satisfying book." — Mark Doty

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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9781571313164
  • Publisher: Milkweed Editions
  • Publication date: 10/2/2012
  • Edition description: Reprint
  • Pages: 192
  • Product dimensions: 5.50 (w) x 8.50 (h) x 0.50 (d)

Meet the Author

Joni Tevis is originally from Easley, South Carolina. Formerly an Edelstein-Keller Fellow at the University of Minnesota, she received her PhD from the University of Houston. She currently teaches literature and creative writing at Furman University in Greenville, South Carolina. Her essays have appeared in Orion, Oxford American, Diagram, and elsewhere. Her first book, The Wet Collection (Milkweed Editions 2007), was a finalist for the Minnesota Book Award.

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