//Lessons from the Greeks is the poetry collection which was honoured with the Grand Prize (category: unpublished books) in Eyelands Book Awards 2020. Gail Sidonie Šobat from Canada kindly accepted to give an interview to Gregory Papadoyiannis via email. Her book will be translated in Greek and will be released from Strange Days Books in 2021 //
Read also a short review for the book by the (EBA judge, poet and writer) Andriana Minou!
How does it feel to be the grand prize winner of our international book awards?
As I think I mentioned, I was stunned and humbled by the news and so very grateful. I’ve been writing for many years and such honours are rare, indeed.
Have you ever imagined that you could be the winner of a writing contest in a country far away from your country?
This was a dream of mine. I’ve always hoped to have more international readers, and my work has been previously published into Lithuanian, but winning an international contest was a fantasy, until now.
How did you hear about the contest?
I belong to the League of Canadian Poets which had your call for submissions listed in its newsletter. I was intrigued, so I applied!
When did you start writing?
As a child, I was encouraged by teachers who “saw” something in me, particularly my Grade- one teacher, my Grade-nine teacher and my high school teacher, Duane Stewart, who remains a dear friend and reader to this day. He encouraged me to begin submitting to literary magazines after high school, and I did. I published my first novel in 2001 and my first book of poetry in 2003.
You wrote a brilliant poetry collection. What was the inspiration for ‘Lessons from the Greeks’’ Is there a lesson that you were personally taught by (ancient obviously) Greeks?
Thank you for your kind comment.
Several years ago, a close friend and I were invited to write a poem for a birthday occasion. I came up with the titular poem of this manuscript, “Lessons from the Greeks,” and was lucky to have that pieceincluded in my previous collection. But that poem remained percolating in my mind. It wouldn’t leave my thoughts and I realized that the Greeks—ancient and modern—still have so much to say to us. That wisdom, born of great poets, playwrights and philosophers I’ve had the privilege to read, study and teach, is particularly relevant today in the turmoil of the 21st century and current decade.
I began playfully: writing within the frame of Greek poetic forms and also through the lens of Greek mythology and drama. Some of the poems reflect that playfulness and others are quite dark, apropos of tragedy and elegy, which is, I sometimes despair, where we are in this world.
Is there a lesson I learned or taught? It’s all happened before; it all happens again. Do we learn anything? I’d like to believe so. I’d like to believe we’re stumbling towards sagacity. And in that stumbling, we could do worse than to read the Greeks. In fact, I think if we did, we’d be all the wiser.
I can see from your bio that you have travelled a lot in your life. Have you ever been in Greece?
Yes, I have been to Greece some years ago. I just loved it! What a beautiful place. As a person in love with the sea, despite living on the Canadian prairie, Greece is a paradise!
How do you feel that your poems will be translated in Greek?
I am thrilled and honoured, and I wish I knew the language.
What are your plans as a writer for the future?
Oh my, such a question! I would like to dedicate more time to my own writing, but I am also a university professor, and I run a non-profit charitable arts organization that hosts writing camps and retreats for young people. So I’m ridiculously busy trying to support young writers in ways similarto how I was supported. I don’t envision giving up that work, but I would certainly cherish more writing time for myself. I have an adult manuscript and a children’s novel manuscript that I would like to place with a publisher. And I am thrilled and excited to see Lessons from the Greeks in novel form.
Gail Sidonie Sobat is a poet, a singer, and the author of 11 books. She is the creator/coordinator of YouthWrite®, camps for kids who love to write…just about anything!©, and an instructor in the communications programs at MacEwan University and in the Faculty of Education at the University of Alberta.
Gail has presented across Canada, including Canada’s North; Doha, Qatar; Hanoi, Vietnam; Bern, Switzerland; Helsinki, Finland; Istanbul, Turkey; and more recently at the Northeastern Modern Language Association in Baltimore, Maryland. She’s been writer-in-residence in several Canadian schools, at Queen’s University, in Doha, Qatar, at the University of Alberta through the Canadian Authors Association, for the Metro Edmonton Federation of Public Libraries, and for NorthWords in Yellowknife, NWT. Her work is published in academic and literary journals, anthologies, and has been broadcast on radio and performed on stage. Gail is a Global TV Woman of Vision and a recipient of her city’s Arts and Culture Citation Award. She’s moved 40 times in her life from Badlands to Siksika Nation Reserve to hideous suburbs to Istanbul to the Sunshine Coast to her writer’s garret in a century-old temperamental house.
POETRY UNPUBLISHED: Lessons from the Greeks / Gail Sidonie Šobat: “Lessons from the Greeks” is more than a contemporary deconstruction of ancient Greek mythological characters; in this poetry collection, Gail Sidonie Šobat is reconstructing an entire poetic world that feels too true to be mythical. Lyricism and humour, tenderness and irony, passion and wit are the main materials the poet uses to build this world that teaches lessons indeed, without, however, being tediously didactic; Šobat’s poetry is refreshingly relevant, striking a balance between the amusing and the profound, through thoughts and images articulated with vibrant energy. ANDRIANA MINOU
Gail Sidonie Šobat photos by GEOFF McMASTER