Peter Markus’ new book Inside My Pencil: Teaching Poetry


Peter Markus, creative writing professor at Oakland University and award-winning writer, discussed his new book, “Inside My Pencil: Teaching Poetry In Detroit Public Schools.” It features essays about Markus’ experience with the InsideOut Literary Arts Project, an organization that “has helped to amplify the voices of thousands of students by dispatching established and emerging poets and writers into classrooms,” according to the project’s website.

“Inside My Pencil” was released on March 28, and can be ordered from Amazon, most bookstores and directly from the publisher, Dzanc Books, on its website.

Q: What led you to get involved with the InsideOut Literary Arts Project?

A: I got involved with InsideOut Literary Arts Project back when I was first trying to make a go of being a writer, which coincided with InsideOut’s inception. I had newly moved to Detroit and was finding great inspiration in the city. I’d done some teaching in graduate school and found great pleasure in talking to others about the power that can come from writing, and I found what some might call my calling in the public school classrooms of Detroit. 

Q: Can you go a little in depth into what the book is about?

A: It’s a pencil, I like to believe, and like to get students to believe, that is endowed with the power of the imagination, the sparks of the made up. The book tells the story of what can take place in any classroom when students are made to believe in such power and the truth that comes through the act of invention. 

Q: What is your writing process like? 

A: When I’m working on a book, I write obsessively. At times this makes me a bad teacher, a bad husband, a bad father, a bad son. That said, I am not all the time working on a book, so the rest of the time I take pride in being a good teacher, a good husband, a good father, a dutiful son. I believe in the power of a single word, and if you find the right word at the right time, that word can be the seed of the book that only you can write.

Q: Are there any passages or essays in this book that you’re particularly fond of?

A: If I had to pick favorite parts of the book, I’d point you to those places where it’s the words of my students that take centerstage. Also, the places when I step outside the classroom and return back to the skin of being a father with my wife and children are also places that I return to to relive and relish the moments that are captured there.

Q: How long does it usually take for you to write a book? 

A: The story of “Inside My Pencil” begins in November of 2004. I spent a year living that story and then writing the experience that I was living down on paper. I returned to it, some time later, to flesh out certain parts and build other threads into the story as I remembered it. Twelve years of my life are rolled up into the making of “Inside My Pencil.” 

Q: Do you have any advice you wish to pass along to undergraduates who want to be a writer?

A: Listen to yourself. Pay attention to the world around you. If you want to write, then write the poems or stories that bring pleasure to you. Don’t think about others in this. This is one place where it serves you best to be selfish.