Public Media for Central Pennsylvania
Play Live Radio
Next Up:
0:00 0:00
Available On Air Stations

Poetry Moment: 'At the Polish-American Festival, Penn's Landing' by J.C. Todd

J.C. Todd
J.C. Todd

This is poetry moment on WPSU – a weekly program featuring the work of contemporary Pennsylvania poets. Your host is poet and author Marjorie Maddox, a 2023 Monson Arts Fellow, and professor of English and creative writing at the Lock Haven campus of Commonwealth University. 

This episode's poem is "At the Polish-American Festival, Penn's Landing" by J.C. Todd

There’s the Pennsylvania Firefly Festival, the Kutztown Folk Festival, and the Firebird Festival, but if you like a good Pennsylvania Polka, today’s celebratory poem will get you dancing.

J. C. Todd lives a few blocks from Independence Hall in Philadelphia. Currently, she is co-editing an innovative anthology, Convergence: Poetry on Environmental Impacts of War. 

In addition, she is author of five collections of poetry, most recently Beyond Repair and The Damages of Morning. Winner of the 2016 Rita Dove Poetry Prize, she was commended in the 2022 Poetry Society of the United Kingdom Competition. Todd has held fellowships from the Pew Center for Arts & Heritage and Pennsylvania Council on the Arts. She has taught creative writing in the Rosemont College MFA Program, as well Bryn Mawr College and Kutztown University.

Pennsylvanians love a good festival—the music, the food, the crafts, the dancing. But it’s more than that. Everything’s dipped in memory. Great-grandma’s pierogi recipe; an uncle’s political spiels; the landscape, language, work, music, and kitchens of our homelands. Often festivals remind us what our ancestors—and perhaps what we—have suffered, survived, and achieved. For today’s poem, put on your dance boots and grab a partner.

Here’s —

At the Polish-American Festival, Penn’s Landing

Red and white everywhere, Lech’s name like a prayer
at novena, recited over and over as though
to stack it up to heaven. And the music—a bright horn,

off-key, an accordion winging through melody,
cleated shoes, their crisp percussion tapping time.
Swollen from an afternoon of non-stop polka,

our hot heels flatten the stubble of day into dusk,
and still we cannot quit dancing for Poland.
On the river, a gaff rig swivels to its farthest reach

above a girl in a red and white halter
who weights the gunnel until the wood hull heels.
No, I hear her cry as she dips below a slash

of boom, dips and leaps leeward. She’s saved her boat
from tipping under. Like a hawk, it comes about,
homing toward the bank’s green haze. Wheeling and

lifting on thermals off-shore, a box kite yanks
at its taut tether. I shift my bulk to the riverward hip,
and we high-step into the spin.

- - - -

That was “At the Polish-American Festival, Penn’s Landing” by J. C. Todd. 

Listen for Poetry Moment with Marjorie Maddox Mondays during Morning Edition and All Things Considered on WPSU.

You can more episodes at moment.

Our theme music is by Eric Ian Farmer.

Marjorie Maddox is the host of WPSU's Poetry Moment for the 2023-24 season. She has been a professor of English and creative writing since 1990 at the Lock Haven campus of Commonwealth University.