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FARMINGTON — After almost two years, Dr. Andrea Penner, a former San Juan College English professor, will be returning to campus to read poems from her recently released book "When North was East."

The reading will take place on Thursday at 5:30 p.m. in the Black Box Theatre.

The book, published in December 2012 by Mercury Heartlink, is an anthology of poems exploring the changes that have occurred since the mid-20th century. Penner contrasts relationships on a continuum from brief fragility to enduring power.

"When North was East" has a variety of characters including a San Quentin prisoner, a gold miner in South Africa and women victims of war.

Penner said the book takes its title from her childhood growing up in Garden Grove, Calif., which is located in Orange County near Disneyland. She described Garden Grove as flat with a lot of houses and few natural landmarks to distinguish the cardinal directions.

She said that as a child she thought of her house as the center of the world and when she walked to school she thought she was going north because that was "up" on her childhood map of her world. Later, upon returning to Garden Grove, she realized it actually was east.

Penner said "When North was East" is a metaphor for how we internalize the place in our lives.

Penner said she is inspired to write poetry by things that happen in her daily life that connect to something larger. For instance, her poem about the prisoner was inspired by her contact with him as a pen pal.


Penner said she saw an ad in her college newspaper for a pen pal. She sent the ad to her friend as a way of saying "you won't believe this." Her friend started writing the prisoner and later Penner asked if she could become a pen pal with a prisoner as well. Penner said she kept all the letters she received from him and after he had died she wrote the poem.

Other poems are based off of something she heard in the news, such as victims of war. She said she'll hear a snippet and it will strike a human chord with her.

Penner said she started writing poetry when she was in high school.

She said people interested in publishing books of poetry should first share the poems with other writers and poets who can offer feedback and constructive criticism. She also suggested sending out individual poems for publication in literary magazines and for contests.

Penner said it is important for writers to decide how valuable it is for them "to be discovered" by publishing companies. For some writers, she said, it might be enough just to get the work out there, in which case, they can self-publish.

Penner received her doctorate in English from the University of New Mexico. She later moved to Farmington where she taught at San Juan College for nine years before returning to Albuquerque.

Penner said she misses the view of the river, bluffs and valley that she could see from her backyard in southern Farmington. She said she also misses hearing the geese and walking through Berg Park.

Hannah Grover may be reached at; 564-4652. Follow her on Twitter @hmgrover