Romeo Tsoulakou, poet and translator

He was born 43 years ago in Sarande in Albania. The first Greek words he remembers hearing were from his Greek grandmother, Ourania, but he learned the most from television. «We could only get the Greek channel,» he explained. Romeo Tsoulakou is one of thousands of Albanian migrants who have come to live in Greece in recent years. He studied language and literature at the University of Gjirokaster in Albania. After living for a couple of years in Corfu, he settled permanently in Athens in 1998. We met him in the spring, on International Poetry Day, and heard he had translated an anthology of Greek poetry by 100 20th century Greek poets. His publisher in Albania had sent a request for funding to the Greek Culture Ministry’s translation funding service three years earlier but never received a reply. He has been writing poetry since he was 18 and has published many collections of verse in Albania. In 2004 and 2005, he was a candidate for the Albanian state poetry award and in 2000 he won a prize for his translation of George Seferis’s poem «Mythistorima.» When Tsoulakou first came to Greece, he started reading Greek books. «Greek poetry provided me with teachers.» Asked to describe what his poems are about, he replied, «I think that those of us who write poetry rely on our memories.» The translation of the anthology is not the only bridge he has set up between the two countries. He has just published a selection of short stories by 21 Greek writers. It is not an anthology in the strict sense, but «what I have read and liked since I have been here.» And that is not all. He has plans to translate more of Seferis’s work along with that of Cavafy and Elytis. He has already published a translation of works by Yiannis Ritsos and he is currently working on translations of poems by Christoforos Liontakis. He has published translations of work by several Greek writers in Albanian literary reviews. In Greece, he has worked as a laborer on construction sites, but he only does that occasionally now. Neither he nor his wife have yet received their official residence permits, even though they have submitted all the documents and paid the fee. «If it wasn’t for the problem with my papers, I wouldn’t feel like a foreigner. I’ve never had problems with Greeks.»