Louie B. Nunn Center for Oral History

Interview with Joe Survant, September 22, 1997

Louie B. Nunn Center for Oral History, University of Kentucky Libraries
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00:00:03 - Kentucky Writers Oral History Project introduction

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Partial Transcript: This is an oral history interview with Joe Survant being conducted by Linda Beattie for the Kentucky Writers Oral History Project.

Segment Synopsis: The interviewer and interviewee are introduced, and the date and location of the interview are given.

Keywords: Education; Elizabethtown (Ky.); Joe Survant; Kentucky writers; Literature; Owensboro (Ky.)

Subjects: American literature--Kentucky.; Education.; Kentucky--In literature.; Kentucky.; Literature.; Survant, Joe, 1942-

00:00:25 - Background and family history

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Partial Transcript: What is your full name and where and when were you born?

Segment Synopsis: Survant gives his full name and birth date and location, and then talks about his parents and the grandparents on either side, as well as his siblings and where they are now.

Keywords: Corpus Christi (Tex.); Crab Orchard (Ky.); Elizabethtown (Ky.); Kentucky; Kentucky writers; London (Ky.); Louisville (Ky.); Nashville (Tenn.); Owensboro (Ky.); Somerset (Ky.); World War II

Subjects: Families.; Genealogy; Survant, Joe, 1942-; World War, 1939-1945--Personal narratives, American

00:03:12 - His childhood / importance of play

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Partial Transcript: Um, what do you remember about your childhood?

Segment Synopsis: Survant talks about what he considers to have been a "lucky" childhood, the sort of games they played, how they ran around out in the woods, and the importance of imaginative, outdoor play coupled with reading to a child growing up.

Keywords: Child rearing; Child-rearing; Education; Owensboro (Ky.)

Subjects: Child-rearing.; Childhood; Education.; Kentucky.; Survant, Joe, 1942-

00:08:33 - His family's literariness and education

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Partial Transcript: Um, you talked about reading helping develop your imagination as well. Do you remember being read to as a child?

Segment Synopsis: When asked, Survant talks about the books that were read to him when he was a child, and how he learned to read before he went to school. He tells an anecdote of giving to his very literate grandmother a book to read that he was teaching that was very racy because she had been curious. He also talks about his immediate family's lack of college education.

Keywords: Education; John Barth; Literature; Owensboro (Ky.); Poetry

Subjects: Barth, John; Education.; Literature.; Poetry.; Survant, Joe, 1942-

00:13:19 - His own public education

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Partial Transcript: Um, in elementary school, do you re--have any distinct memories of favorite teachers or favorite subjects?

Segment Synopsis: Survant describes what he remembers as a comparatively unremarkable public education (albeit with good teachers)--an exception being his senior advanced English class, in which many of his classmates went on to do interesting things.

Keywords: Bowling Green (Ky.); Kentucky; Literature; Owensboro (Ky.); Terry Bisson; Western Kentucky University

Subjects: Bisson, Terry; Education.; Kentucky.; Literature.; Survant, Joe, 1942-

00:21:24 - Early career aspirations / sound issues

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Partial Transcript: By the end of high school, did you think that English is--was a career that you wanted to go into?

Segment Synopsis: Survant graduated in 1960, the "Era of Sputnik" as he says, and so everyone in that advanced English class wanted to be scientists. He describes his shift over to literature from his initial major of physics.

[Brief audio issues that cover up a few seconds at a time of the interview.]

Keywords: Education; Kentucky; Niels Bohr; Physics

Subjects: Bohr, Niels, 1885-1962.; Physics.; Survant, Joe, 1942-

00:23:44 - Graduate school

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Partial Transcript: We didn't have to do ma--an MA in this program.

Segment Synopsis: Survant talks about doing an MA and PhD in one go at the University of Delaware, for which he completed all the coursework in three years because he didn't have to teach as well. Beattie inquires about his career interests at the time, nearly going into Anglo-Saxon literature, but didn't because it would involve learning too many dead languages.

Keywords: Beowulf; Education; Literature; University of Delaware; University of Kentucky

Subjects: Beowulf.; Survant, Joe, 1942-; University of Delaware; University of Kentucky

00:26:46 - Interest in James Joyce

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Partial Transcript: Um, I got interested in Joyce.

Segment Synopsis: Survant discusses the growth, from high school through college through grad school, of his interest in James Joyce's writing, and how he ultimately wound up writing his dissertation on the use of time in Joyce's "Ulysses" and Sterne's "Tristram Shandy."

Keywords: Education; Guy Davenport; Impressionism; James Joyce; Joe Survant; Laurence Sterne; Literature; Theater; University of Delaware; University of Kentucky

Subjects: Davenport, Guy; Education.; Impressionism.; Joyce, James; Literature.; Sterne, Laurence; Survant, James, 1942-; Theater.; University of Delaware; University of Kentucky

00:29:17 - Getting married / going to work at UK / finishing dissertation at Delaware

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Partial Transcript: You said you were married by that time at some point during your Delaware years.

Segment Synopsis: Survant talks about marrying his wife, her own education, a detour during his doctoral work to teach at UK, his return to Delaware, and the pros and cons of ultimately choosing to teach at Western Kentucky University rather than the University of Kentucky.

Keywords: Brescia University; Education; James Joyce; Kentucky Wesleyan College; Literature; Owensboro (Ky.); University of Delaware; University of Kentucky; Wendell Berry; Western Kentucky University

Subjects: Berry, Wendell, 1934-; Education.; Joyce, James; Literature.; Survant, Joe, 1942-; University of Delaware; University of Kentucky

00:36:53 - Teaching at Western Kentucky / how to teach writing

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Partial Transcript: And so you have been at Western ever since nineteen--

Segment Synopsis: Survant talks about his teaching career at Western, the classes he's taught and created, and what it's taken away from him. Beattie then inquires about his philosophy for teaching creative writing, because he established creative writing at Western.

Keywords: Education; Kentucky; Kentucky writers; Literature; Western Kentucky University

Subjects: Education.; Literature.; Survant, Joe, 1942-; Western Kentucky University

00:45:02 - Fulbright professorship in Malaysia / universality of literature

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Partial Transcript: Um, how do you--are--well, I, I know you were a Fulbright professor at Malaysia during the 1983-'84 academic year.

Segment Synopsis: Survant talks about his experience as a Fulbright scholar in Malaysia, the attitude against English literature, and how he wasn't allowed to teach but one class a semester, which freed him to write a lot of his own poetry. This leads to a discussion of cultural differences and the universality of literature as exemplified by perceived Indian spiritual influences in Walt Whitman's "Leaves of Grass."

Keywords: Education; Fulbright scholars; Hinduism; Malaysia; Walt Whitman

Subjects: Education.; Fulbright scholars.; Hinduism.; Literature.; Malaysia; Survant, Joe, 1942-; Whitman, Walt

00:53:02 - Start of his poetry career / getting published

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Partial Transcript: Will you discuss your poetry career?

Segment Synopsis: Survant discusses the struggles of publishing, telling the story of his own poetry career. Beattie also asks whether he's participated in any writing groups, which he hasn't.

Keywords: Kentucky; Kentucky writers; Literature; Publishing

Subjects: Herrin, Lamar.; Literature.; Poetry.; Publishers and publishing.; Survant, Joe, 1942-

01:01:07 - Winning grants and awards / the University of Arkansas Press

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Partial Transcript: Uh, I know you've won a number of awards and grants for your poetry.

Segment Synopsis: Beattie inquires about the awards and grants he's won, of which he declares the University of Arkansas Press award to be his favorite, because it gave him "legitimacy."

Keywords: Kentucky; Kentucky writers; Literature; Poetry; University of Arkansas Press; Western Kentucky University

Subjects: Literature.; Poetry.; Survant, Joe, 1942-; University of Arkansas Press; Western Kentucky University.

01:06:04 - The "Ann and Alpheus" poems

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Partial Transcript: Actually, your 1995 State Street Press chapbook, "We Will All Be Changed," consists of poems dated over a six month period between August 9th, 1842 and January 1st, 1843.

Segment Synopsis: Beattie inquires about a few particular volumes of his poetry, and so Survant tells the story of how he came to write those poems: a dissatisfaction with lyric poetry, reading a diary of a nineteenth century circuit preacher in rural Kentucky, and an argument he'd been involved in about writing in a voice different than your own, particularly that of someone of a different gender.

Keywords: Kentucky; Kentucky writers; Literature; Lyric poetry; Pat Carr; Poetry; William Wordsworth

Subjects: American literature--Kentucky.; Carr, Pat; Kentucky--In literature.; Kentucky.; Literature.; Poetry.; Survant, Joe, 1942-; Wordsworth, William, 1770-1850

01:14:24 - Writing outside your own voice

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Partial Transcript: Y'know, whether or not those distinctions are--y'know, between male and female sensibilities are true--obviously they aren't--

Segment Synopsis: Survant and Beattie further discuss the universality of literature, the meaning of love, and imagination.

Keywords: Education; Feminism; Kentucky; Kentucky writers; Literature; Michael Dorris; Nationality; Pat Carr; Poetry; Racism

Subjects: Carr, Pat; Dorris, Michael; Education.; Feminism.; Literature.; Poetry.; Survant, Joe, 1942-

01:18:38 - What distinguishes his poetry / his influences

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Partial Transcript: Um, what strikes me most is I mentioned earlier in our conversation, uh, about "Ann and Alpheus," is that it reads like prose poetry...

Segment Synopsis: Beattie inquires about what distinguishes his poetry. This leads to a discussion of the various influences on his particular style of prose poetry.

Keywords: Arthur Rimbaud; Beat Generation; Beowulf; Gary Snyder; John Keats; Kentucky; Kentucky writers; Literature; Poetry; Robert Creeley; T. S. Eliot; Walt Whitman; Wendell Berry; William Wordsworth

Subjects: Kentucky.; Literature.; Survant, Joe, 1942-; Wordsworth, William, 1770-1850

01:22:39 - Sense of place

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Partial Transcript: Uh, certainly, in one who has read "Ann and Alpheus" or your unpublished manuscript, "In the Forest of Man"--

Segment Synopsis: Branching off the previous segment discussing his influences and what makes his poetry unique, the two discuss the sense of place as in physical location in his work, and the need for a sense of place in daily life, as exemplified in the upswing of regional writing.

Keywords: Kentucky; Kentucky writers; Literature; Wendell Berry; Western Kentucky University; William Wordsworth

Subjects: American literature--Kentucky.; Kentucky--In literature.; Kentucky.; Literature.; Poetry.; Survant, Joe, 1942-; Wordsworth, William, 1770-1850

01:27:34 - Current and future writing projects

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Partial Transcript: Um, what are you writing now?

Segment Synopsis: Beattie inquires about Survant's current and future writing projects, and so he talks about a new book of poetry about wintertime river rafting in western Kentucky, comparing it structure-wise to Masters' "Spoon River Anthology."

Keywords: Edgar Lee Masters; Evansville (Ind.); History; Kentucky; Kentucky writers; Literature; Owensboro (Ky.); Poetry

Subjects: American literature--Kentucky.; History.; Kentucky--In literature.; Kentucky.; Literature.; Masters, Edgar Lee, 1868-1950.; Poetry.; Survant, Joe, 1942-

01:33:55 - On potentially writing in different genres / the nature of creativity

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Partial Transcript: Um, have you ever written or do you think you want to write in other genres, other than your academic articles?

Segment Synopsis: Beattie and Survant discuss the varying struggles of writing poetry versus novels versus other genres, and how he thinks he's "too old" to try to write a novel, even though he's curious. From here, Beattie inquires about his thoughts on the nature of creativity.

Keywords: Kentucky; Kentucky writers; Literature; Poetry; Wendell Berry

Subjects: Berry, Wendell, 1934-; Kentucky.; Literature.; Poetry.; Survant, Joe, 1942-

01:40:09 - Balancing writing with teaching and life

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Partial Transcript: I find the best way for me to function is to do my writing first.

Segment Synopsis: Survant discusses balancing writing with teaching and life, and how he helps this by having his own particular routine, as well as a plan for revising on his "uncreative" days.

Keywords: Jim Wayne Miller; Kentucky; Kentucky writers; Literature; Wendell Berry; Western Kentucky University

Subjects: Berry, Wendell, 1934-; Kentucky.; Literature.; Survant, Joe, 1942-; Western Kentucky University

01:43:56 - Why he writes

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Partial Transcript: And I guess, most writers I've spoken to, you would probably agree that you're writing primarily for the process?

Segment Synopsis: Beattie and Survant discuss why he writes and why other people write, both for process vs. product, and what one gets emotionally out of writing itself. He decides that he could not not-write.

Keywords: Kentucky; Kentucky writers; Literature; Poetry; Publishing

Subjects: Kentucky.; Literature.; Poetry.; Publishers and publishing.; Survant, Joe, 1942-

01:48:01 - Jim Wayne Miller memorial writing conference

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Partial Transcript: Um, you--we have referred to the Jim Wayne Miller conference that you organized for the first time this year in, in honor of Jim Wayne Miller's memory at Western Kentucky University.

Segment Synopsis: Beattie asks specifically about the Jim Wayne Miller memorial writing conference that Survant helped plan, how he got Wendell Berry to come to it, how it went, where all the participants came from, and other specifics.

Keywords: Jim Wayne Miller; Kentucky; Kentucky writers; Literature; Poetry; Wendell Berry

Subjects: American literature--Kentucky.; Berry, Wendell, 1934-; Kentucky--In literature.; Kentucky.; Literature.; Poetry.; Survant, Joe, 1942-

01:53:53 - Other writing conferences / doing readings

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Partial Transcript: Are you going to be the person planning these annually, then?

Segment Synopsis: Survant discusses the logistics of having other writing conferences and then Beattie inquires about his doing readings, where all he does them, how he gets to do them, and other thoughts on them.

Keywords: Kentucky; Kentucky writers; Literature; Poetry; Western Michigan University

Subjects: Kentucky.; Literature.; Survant, Joe, 1942-; Western Michigan University

01:57:34 - Concluding remarks / the importance of English education

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Partial Transcript: Is there anything that we haven't talked about that you think is important to know about you, the writer or just as a person?

Segment Synopsis: Survant finishes by giving his opinions and secondhand experience through his wife, a high school English teacher, with the poor situation in state-mandated English education.

Keywords: Education; Kentucky; Kentucky writers; Literature; Percy Bysshe Shelley; Percy Shelley; Poetry

Subjects: Education.; Literature.; Poetry.; Shelley, Percy Bysshe, 1792-1822; Survant, Joe, 1942-