My friend Katerina Anghelaki-Rooke, who has died aged 80, was a poet whose work was widely admired not only in her homeland of Greece but across Europe and the US. She was also a translator of many works from English into Greek, including the poetry of Seamus Heaney and Sylvia Plath, and was particularly proud of her translation of Dylan Thomas’s Under Milk Wood.
Katerina was born in Athens, the daughter of Yannis Anghelakis, a lawyer, and his wife, Eleni (nee Stamati). She had her first poem published in the New Era magazine in Greece in 1956, when she was 17, having been urged to submit it by the writer Nikos Kazantzakis, her godfather and a friend of the family. After schooling in Athens she studied languages at universities in Nice and Geneva.
In the early 1960s she met an Englishman, Rodney Rooke, a Liverpudlian classics scholar who was studying in Athens. Rodney was chronically shy while Katerina was the opposite, and they were married in 1963: she described him as her “rock”.
Her first collection of poems, Wolves and Clouds, appeared in the year of their marriage. After a gap of seven years her second volume, Poems 63-69, was published in 1971 and thereafter her new collections came out at more regular intervals until she had more than 20 volumes published by her death, with translations in more than 10 languages.
Her sensual writing was at times merciless in its observation of the human condition, while the body – its shortcomings, its erotic struggles and desires – was central to her work, for which she won the Grand State prize for literature in Greece in 2014.
Katerina was not only a poet but also a highly accomplished linguist. Aside from her main work on English language authors, which also included Saul Bellow, Joseph Brodsky and Derek Walcott, she translated Russian writers into Greek – notably Vasily Grossman, Mikhail Lermontov and Alexander Pushkin.
I first met Katerina while I was working in Greece for the BBC and we remained friends for the next 30 years. She spent a lot of her time in a flat in Athens, but was most at home on the island of Aegina, where she had inherited a crumbling family villa.
There she would sit at the table by the pistachio trees, a bottle of ouzo close at hand, welcoming visitors from all over the world. Her raucous, echoing laughter would boom out while she rocked precariously on a chair. She radiated warmth and had a great zest for life.
Rodney died in 2005.