Joe Survant grew up in Owensboro, Kentucky on the Ohio River, a circumstance that he counts as one of the main influences on his writing and on his decision to become a poet. Water –ponds, streams, and rivers, above and below ground– is a constant presence in his poetry. He left Owensboro to attend the University of Kentucky and, then, the University of Delaware, where he earned a Ph.D. in English. Before beginning a teaching career that spanned four decades, he worked in construction and in a factory on a machine that extruded rubber hoses. He has taught at the University of Kentucky, the Universiti Sains Malaysia and is currently retired from Western Kentucky University where he is a Professor Emeritus of English.
A Poet Laureate of Kentucky from 2002-2004, Survant is the author of four collections of poetry. The most recent is Rafting Rise (University Press of Florida), a collection of narrative poems set in the Green River Basin near Owensboro, just before the U.S.’s entry into WWI. His poems have appeared in many magazines, both in the U.S. and abroad, including the U.K., Singapore, Malaysia, and China. The Presence of Snow in the Tropics, a poetic record of a year living in Malaysia, was published by Landmark Books in Singapore. His work has also been collected in more than a dozen anthologies. His awards include the Arkansas Poetry Prize for Anne & Alpheus,1842-1882, the State Street Press Award for We Will All Be Changed, an Al Smith Fellowship in Poetry from the Kentucky Arts Council, the Frankfort Arts Chapbook Award, a Fulbright Fellowship to Malaysia, and a fellowship from the National Endowment for the Humanities.
Survant says he was moved to write for the first time at eleven when he and life-long friend, the writer Terry Bisson, became enthralled with Clifford D. Simak’s far-future novel, City. At fifteen, he was jolted to attempt poetry when he read Rimbaud’s A Season in Hell and Kipling’s narrative verse and discovered the compelling contraries of narrative and lyric poetry. The majority of his poetic career has been an attempt to harness the tension between these two paths of poetry.
In February of 2014, the University Press of Kentucky will publish The Land We Dreamed: Poems. It compliments Anne & Alpheus and Rafting Rise, and together they comprise a Kentucky Trilogy of narrative poems set in different centuries.
Since the death of his wife, Jeannie Ashley, Survant divides his time between writing, travel and keeping up with his children and grandchildren.