Four writers who reflect the power words hold

January 6, 2022

My hand carefully traced old versions of Roundtable, Prospect’s literary magazine, saved in a large cardboard box. I was feeling past years preserved underneath my fingertips like a never-found ocean hiding away. Roundtable is older than 60 years old, and literary magazine sponsor and English teacher Michael Andrews leaves out past copies when students meet together to discuss Roundtable and participate in Creative Writing Club. The delicate copies reached out to me like people from decades ago were whispering their stories to me in utter silence. 

Some pages included poems, but I thought the most poetic aspect of the books was the humanity contained inside of them. No matter what year I was reading through, I understood that feelings and thoughts became timeless once preserved through words. 

I saw the pattern of human hearts that stayed the same. I saw loss, love, pain, sorrow, happiness and fear; I witnessed feelings knit together like a warm quilt of protection and understanding. Questions of issues in the world and concepts people will never truly understand were sprawled across paper. A reflection of my deepest feelings were recognizable in the words that students wrote in the early ‘70s.

It was like I gained a collection of beautiful secrets to hold in my heart and carry with me; the words ripped themselves off of their thin pages latching onto my heart and mind, inspiring me to remember what it means to be alive. Past words tangled around me shattering any prototype of a clock I had in my mind. 

Words help me understand the true meaning of living through feeling, because I see the power our words have within all of us. 

Whether writers share their work in or out of school, I have always found it easy to lose myself in another person’s words. Reading through Roundtable makes me wonder how writers I enjoyed started their craft. The timelessness of words does not solely exist in Roundtable, but I witness it through the authors I enjoy. Here are a few of my favorite authors who use words timelessly. They help me understand and remember what it means to be alive through words. They are the water reflecting a sky people can try to define but can never hold. These writers found a way to hold onto all that cannot be held, and that deserves to be shared with humanity. 

Charles Bukowski:

Honesty can be hard to find, but it clearly runs through the veins of German-American poet, novelist and short story writer Charles Bukowski. Taking away all of those labels, he is a person who allowed writing to pour out of him even though other people try to define him. 

I have finished many of Bukowski’s books in one sitting, and his poetry books do not disappoint me. I always see genuine human experience and emotion in them. 

There is one particular poem he wrote called “the great debate” that always comes to my mind. It is about him throwing away the work of a writer he used to read who learned how to write a perfectly accepted poem: a writer who lost the emotional content and meaning of their poems. 

Bukowski reminds me that I will always be a person who thinks and feels and writes, no matter how people expect me to write or how they view a good poem.

Two of his books I recommend reading are “You Get So Alone at Times That It Just Makes Sense” and “The People Look Like Flowers At Last.” Each of his books is a snapshot of his life taken directly from the inside, and he writes related to his own unique experiences, which is what makes his words so powerful. 

At times when I read writing by Bukowski, it feels as if I am sitting in a chair in his room, eyeing a typewriter’s keys and reflecting on how I feel about myself. 

It is so special to hear Bukowski’s writing read aloud by him. One of my favorite poems to hear spoken is “rain.” His calmly spoken words start to feel like rain brushing my body after a while. It feels as if I am the man he is speaking about who is sitting alone in the rain listening to the orchestra play. 

Born in 1920, his writing stands the test of time because he shows introspection of himself in ways people fear sharing with the world. He is not afraid to speak on behalf of all of himself; even parts people would normally try to hide. 

We are all human, and thankfully at least someone is willing to share what depressingly negative aspects and limitations come along with that.


Ocean Vuong: 

I was feeling nervous while sitting in the library next to a stranger until I flipped to a new page of “On Earth We’re Briefly Gorgeous” by Vietnamese American poet, essayist and novelist Ocean Vuong who was born in 1988. The novel suddenly took poetry form; air flowed between each line. It was almost as if Vuong was comforting me with silence left between his own thoughts, like I was in on his self-reflection. Seeing those spaces genuinely made it easier for me to breathe, and that is why novel writing should not have any creative boundaries; why it is so special to read a novel written by a poet. 

This book is a crystal made out of human connection and the lack thereof. I have never seen loss be described in such a unique way. He proved that words were his own to use, especially when writing about experiences that tend to be heart-shattering for most people. Reading his books is just like taking time to meet a friend and talk to them about their perspective on life, and his perspective is one that is refreshingly unique and easy to adore. It is so special to hold one of his books, because it feels like I am holding his heart. I felt his heartbreak and his joy and even saw his emotions dance together like shadows and lights on the streets. Vuong sees people and sees all the way through them, and I am so very glad he uses words to reflect that. 

There are so many lines in Vuong’s books that have stayed with me. I have never heard someone use such beautiful symbols in a novel before to connect their life experiences together. One line in this book that stands out to me is when his younger self thinks “How can anyone be a feeling?” So, let me reply: You can be a feeling for a moment when you read stories of living told by Vuong.

His poetry book “Night Sky with Exit Wounds” just proves that Vuong’s words will always flow out of him naturally, like they beg to leave his body. Sometimes I read when my chest feels like it is tightening, and reading this book was like he knew what that felt like; like he was sitting in front of me untangling the strings trapped inside of my body. 

Each of his poems reflect the most beautiful reasons to stay alive, no matter how complicated and confusing the world can be. I flipped over the book as I could suddenly felt my chest untighten and I saw the words: “Here. That’s all I wanted to be.” I let his oceans flow through me and pass down my cheeks as they combined with my own.

Here is where I’d like to be too, and Ocean Vuong reminds me of it. 


Fyodor Dostoyevsky:

When I learned about dreams in AP Psychology this year, one psychologist called analyzing dreams a fool’s errand. I could not respectfully disagree more. I love analyzing my own dreams and reading the works of people inspired by the concept of dreaming. 

This is why the first short story I read by Russian novelist, short story writer, essayist and journalist Fyodor Mikhailovich Dostoyevsky called “The Dream of a Ridiculous Man” has touched my heart and left me to be different ever since. 

Dostoyevsky, born in 1821, has shown how love and pain go hand in hand in “The Dream of a Ridiculous Man.” Almost the entire short story takes place in a vivid dream a man has that eventually changes his perspective on living after he is taken to a new world. I recommend this short story so profusely, because I cannot even express to you how prevalent Dostoyevsky’s concepts are in my mind years after reading them. His mind is a true wonder, and anyone who analyzes it gains new keys to the doors of life just by sharing a fragment of his brain for a moment. 

Each time I feel both love and pain at the same time, Dostoyevsky’s writing peeks through in my mind like morning sunshine passing through a window’s curtains. One of the most important early life lessons I understood was seeing how love and pain coexist together, and Dostoyevsky put my feelings into words so long ago. I am grateful that I was lucky enough to find them and that they were translated into English. Reading writing with such deep meaning from so long ago paints my skin with a glitter of hope. Dostoyevky’s existence alone just shows how much we can learn from history today.

After reading that short story, I decided to read Dostoyevsky’s novel “The Idiot’,’ a book about a man who is empathetic and therefore is seen as illogical, but saying that barely skims this book’s contents. The novel directly holds humanity inside through words that can be understood and interpreted in many ways. Each person who reads it can take away a completely different lesson, which is an element of the novel that I love dearly. This book feels like a whole art exhibit, a peek into the hearts and minds of strangers and a complete new life that can be lived through words. It is one of my absolute favorite written works, and I am telling you directly from my passion-filled heart when I simply say: read it.

I am so immensely impressed with Dostoyevsky’s ability to shed light on both issues people still experience today and the inner-workings of human hearts and minds. The feelings he saw in the world in the 1800s are still here sewn in through the thread of human hearts today. I resonate with so many parts of his characters, and it is so special to see myself through another person’s words that originated in another part of the world so long ago. 

If you need inspiration, reflection or a way to keep your mind busy please just pick up a Dostoyevsky book. Your mind will run free if you give it a chance, so very free. 


Hermann Hesse:

Home is often spoken of in such a concrete manner, but I think home is more of a feeling than a place. I really appreciate the way German-Swiss poet, novelist and painter Hermann Hesse talks about home because of this.

The first book I read by Hesse, who was born in 1877, was “Demian,” and I wrote a review of it in Issue 1 of the Prospector last year. I think it is fair to say that the book is still my favorite that I have ever read. A book has never shattered my perspective like this one did. Its comments on dreams, morality and the law of attraction take up a considerable amount of my mind, and his concepts have even visited my very own dreams. This book, along with others, almost feel like a part of my skeleton now since I resonate with them so intensely. In this way, my skeleton is likely similar to a library.

“Demian” is such a deep analysis of being human and understanding the world outside of the home you grew up in. Hesse’s writing has the ability to spark a genuine passion in my heart that could not be burned out even if all of the water in the world was poured over it. 

After I read “Demian,” I was so curious about what Hesse’s poetry would be like, because I did not know he was a poet until I researched more about him.

I am so glad I read a collection of his poems in English selected and translated by American poet James Wright. On the first page of the book after passing the cover of a cloud of dark red and black paint surrounding a picture of Hesse’s face, the words “If ‘Poetry is what is lost in translation,’ here is one collaboration that transcends that maxim” welcome the reader to the collection. 

I love hearing Hesse reflect on his childhood that suddenly took the form of adulthood. I appreciate the way he connects the world inside of his mind to the world outside. The theme of searching for home is translated so beautifully from German to English that I find it hard to believe that poetry has any boundaries at all. It more so feels like poetry is a secret long-lasting oasis of human emotions hidden from human touch itself; an oasis that floods through us as soon as inspiration strikes. Hesse’s beautiful symbols of nature in his writing make me believe that he must live in a garden of his own words nearby.

Hesse must have found that oasis in his dreams.


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