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“Beating the Bounds” with Liz Ahl

By Regina Merullo; For the Clock
On December 15, 2017

“Beating the Bounds” with Liz Ahl 

Regina Merullo

For the Clock 

For many, a poem draws to mind the image of a few stanzas on a single page; one does not picture in their mind an entire book of individual tales and testimonies. Each poem is an individual piece, so how could they all fit together in a series? How could anyone have the time or skill to write enough poems to fill a book?

Perhaps the answer is to start at an early age. Liz Ahl, PSU professor and published poet, did just this, as she has been drawn to writing since her youth. “I think that, as a kid, I got really wrapped up and transported by reading, by language,” she said. “I think I liked the idea that I might use language myself in transportive, magical ways...”

She said that her yearning to share language developed more and more as she grew older. “I began to appreciate, and even crave, the more social dimensions of  poetry writing, and of artmaking in general,” she said. Her passion for her craft certainly continues to show, as Ahl’s newest poetry collection, “Beating the Bounds,” was published on September 19.

When asked if students influence her work, Ahl said that she has written several pieces relating to students. At times, they have even helped her in her writing. “One time, I shared a poem that I'd been struggling with for years with students. I'd really been unable to figure out this one part, and in minutes, they'd helped me find a solution. It was amazing!” Ahl said.

Of course, students are not the poet’s only source of inspiration. “I get inspired by all kinds of things— stuff I read in the newspaper or hear on the radio or see online,” she said. “Stories people tell me, people I meet, poems by others. Personal experiences I have.”

Ahl gathers detail from the world around her. For this series, she took inspiration from a small, familiar world. “For ‘Beating the Bounds,’ most of the poems were inspired by place— by this place, actually— Plymouth and surrounding towns and rural places in New Hampshire,” she said.

So, if writing an entire book of poems is possible, how does one decide to end it? “The last poem in the book, ‘Settling Down,’ wasn't written specifically to conclude the book— but I get a kick of how the end of the last poem in the book is about not knowing how to end a poem,” Ahl said.

“In addition to just amusing me like that, I hope the poem also recalls some of the themes introduced in the title poem, [like] figuring out where home is [and] what it means.”

For aspiring writers, Ahl’s advice is, “Be a reader first. Read more than you write. Strangely enough, taking in all those words will help you find your own words.”

Liz Ahl’s collection of poems, “Beating the Bounds,” is available for sale at the PSU Follett Campus Bookstore. It is also available directly from the press at 

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