Tuesday Poem-Lessons learned from my father by Panni Palasti – (inspiration for a new New Zealand symphony)

Maybe what you did not tell me

you didn’t dare to tell yourself.


Why tell a child

about ditches pre-dug,

about sliding over bodies

in squelching mud of clay and blood

and up-up above

a lethal line of smoking guns

reloaded again and again

by cursing men?


You did try to make sense

out of the tangles of trampled grass

and later, to melt the ice

by soundlessly breathing

on frozen windows

in abandoned rooms.


Anything to stay alive,

you taught me how to hide,

to smile,

to lie,

and above all,

to bide my time

until all tyrants fall.

(c) Panni Palasti


Symphony No.5 by New Zealand composer Ross Harris has its world premiere at the Auckland Philharmonia Orchestras’s Voices of Youth concert in Auckland.  The above poem and two others by Panni Palasti,   were its inspiration. 

Lessons learned from my father says Panni, shows him hiding from the Gestapo in empty rooms and later, in the final days of war, in a light shaft below our bathroom window.’

Panni in Budapest 2010

Panni in Budapest

Panni Palasti was born in Budapest and educated there. She entered the United States as a refugee in 1956 after the Hungarian revolution and continued her studies in New York, San Francisco and Los Angeles. She worked as a teacher and feature writer in California before sailing with her husband and son to New Zealand. She lived in Russell for 28 years where she started the Russell Writers Workshop and edited the Russell Review for two decades before moving to Nelson in 2002.
She has been writing poems since first grade. Her poems have been published in Hungary, the United States and in New Zealand.

The two paragraphs below are extracts from a recent article in the Auckland Philharmonia News by Sylvia Giles. The eyes of a 10-year-old frame Symphony No.5 by Ross Harris, which has its world premiere at the Auckland Philharmonia Orchestra’s Voices of Youth concert in August. It’s who poet Panni Palásti refers to as “my child,” the central character in a trio of poems that overlay Harris’s latest piece. But despite any third-person pronouns she uses in the course of explaining her work, “my child” is in fact her, and the poems built from memories gathered off the floors of bomb shelters during World War II, when she was aged 10.It might be said the collaboration is the work of two veterans; Harris, one of the concert halls, and Palásti, of life.

But central Eastern Europe has been a
huge influence on Palásti’s work, and she talks of her literary ancestors as being literary foot soldiers, conditioned by the course of time. “Central Eastern Europe is a place, whether
it’s Poland, Czechoslovakia as it was then, Hungary, Romania or Yugoslavia, where our poetry has always been warrior poetry. Poets became, through the necessity of history, the messengers of suffering and the collective moral conscience of the country. The best poets always raise moral questions. [They] always ask: ‘What are we doing?’

To listen to Kathryn Ryan’s interview with Panni recorded on Radio NZ National on Friday July 12th go here

To listen to an interview with Ross Harris in which he talks about his first meeting with Panni and how it all began, click here


Lessons learned from my father’ comes from Panni’s book ‘Taxi Taxi’ (Matai River Press 2008), which is undergoing its 2nd printing and available at numerous places online. Panni has also produced  Born in Budapest a CD of her poems, accompanied by moving music. from Gabor Tolnay, another Hungarian born New Zealander. This delightful collection of 26 poems about love and loss, memories and the delights of every day is available at good bookshops and through pageandblackmore.co.nz .

The video below is a recording from the CD.  Have a listen to Panni reading to Gabor’s accompaniment…wonderful sounds both.

Panni, is at present working on a memoir of Budapest. Thank you Panni for permission to post this poem and Congratulations on your achievments. 🙂

Please return to Tuesday Poem where this week’s editor is Saradha Koirala.

2 thoughts on “Tuesday Poem-Lessons learned from my father by Panni Palasti – (inspiration for a new New Zealand symphony)

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