Keep My Words Forever (Roma Liberov, 2015)

As part of The Future Remains: Revisiting Revolution, Calvert 22 Foundation is pleased to present A poet in Russia is not just a poet, a series of three summer film screenings dedicated to the fate of Russian writers during and after the Revolution with director Roma Liberov.

The first film in the series brings to the screen the tragic fate of the great Russian poet Osip Mandelstam in a synthesis of cinema, animation, puppetry, music and literature.

Director Roma Liberov will be on hand to present his film and for a Q&A with the audience after the screening.

Keep My Words Forever

2015, dir. Roma Liberov, 84 min.​

Osip Mandelstam is one of the most extraordinary and tragic figures in all the Russian literature. Born in 1891, he was 26 when the Revolution happened. He tried and failed to force himself to accept the new era. Muted from 1925 to 1930, last published in 1928, twice arrested, dying in a concentration camp in 1938 – he is a symbol of a pure poetry. His only fault was in writing poems.

Osip Mandelstam is the supreme example of the life and work of a poet.

The state sought to kill and forget him. The first aim was fulfilled when the poet died in a camp: starving, frozen and distraught.

But the poems remained. They were saved by his wife, Nadezhda Mandelstam, who had memorised them.

Thanks to her, we are able to read his unique words: “Keep my words forever, because of their taste of unhappiness and smoke…”

About the series

“Literature in Russia is a serious business. Especially in the 20th century.

The 1917 October Revolution was a ‘big bang’ that continues to be felt today. It was the start of a new era, one which was to devour innumerable victims.

As with many forms of art, literature became a form of propaganda. Only those texts that served the new authorities survived – those that promoted the idea of a new human being, the strengthening of the regime, and the swift establishment of communism.

Under these conditions, intellectuals came to occupy a rather unique position.

Having experienced some early success, Yuri Olesha found himself caught in the epoch’s grip, unable to speak his truth.

Joseph Brodsky was one of the only writers to win the full gamut of honours and awards, including the Nobel Prize. Despite this, he was thrown out of the country, where his wife, son and parents remained.

Georgiy Vladimirov, who published stories about concentration camps during the ‘Thaw’, also emigrated.

Sergey Dovlatov, another émigré, was barely visible in Russia – none of his books were published in Russia during his lifetime.

Ilf and Petrov, on the other hand, birthed a new Soviet language, working as if the Iron Curtain did not exist. But they were ‘lucky’ to die before their books became the subject of contempt.

Osip Mandelstam became unstable in the new epoch, declining into an acute state of illness. His time in a concentration camp destroyed him.

Literature in Russia is serious business.”

– Roma Liberov