070.1: Helen Vitoria:: Athena & Atlas & Narcissus 070

In her poem “Athena”, Helen Vitoria writes of a repertoire that might “redeem/the skills of/vase painters”. I interpret this redemption as a vitalization, a way of raising the line, color, and shape of mythical painting into the complex and thorny realm of human experience. Though Vitoria’s poetry is many things, it first and foremost redeems the mythical past: each poem plumbs the mists, the murky and slippery depths of literary imagination, and pulls out the shards of a broken collection. From these bits and pieces, Vitoria manages to add the boldness of sensory detail, psychological nuance, irony, the Janus-faced emotion that is frustration in one direction, yearning in another.

Vitoria’s speakers evoke a keen sense of self-awareness. In the context of myth, this self-awareness achieves its most fulfilling actualization when these characters can articulate the futility (and beauty) of their positions. Here is chaste Athena, almost triumphantly watching the futile dance of suitors. Here is Atlas, infatuated with the mortal woman he’s conjured, still stuck holding earth’s pillars. Here is Narcissus talking about himself (of course), but in this poem after discovering the wasted body of Echo, and so we see self-centeredness marshaled to express desperation and desire. Generically, this selection of Vitoria’s poetry might be labeled “urns” to describe their self-enclosed structures. I prefer, however, to think of this selection as composed of broken vases. Readers catch glimpses of titans, gods, heroes, only to be stopped by the sharp cutting edge of where history has broken a once complete vessel. Vitoria’s repertoire certainly redeems, but its potency arrives from knowing that it can only be a partial redemption of what has come before. Ryan Winet


In the temple
men are
There is a
an attic
of conceit skill
a way to redeem
the myths of
vase painters

A flexible silver leaf
bluish green
with gray
yet pitiful as a
captive spider
impressed in disguise
& defeat of
all of my future


I am tired
Desire rests in this rotted orchard
of sticks & brown snakes
every venomous apple

The architecture of
heaven is a mass grave
An absurd cartography of death
& three stout hearted

I’ve unearthed a mortal woman
a lost astronomer
a passion of geography &
released her into a swell of waves

I have conjured her kneeling
all head back & shoulders
pathetic & small

while I stand
colossal & rigid
bearing this weight

Narcissus: upon discovering the body of Echo

I want someone to
remove the unclothed
dim body

Sweep up frayed
skeletal shards
this gaunt ghost

I want wild mares
to neigh for me

Green nostril steeds
swarming &
to release me

I want steel treads
not a soul to notice
the stepping

the mess
the crushed field

I want blood filled air
that I own