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Dzanc Books is nonprofit press specializing in literary fiction and nonfiction. In addition to publishing activities, Dzanc Books also supports the Disquiet International Literary Program.

Inside My Pencil: Teaching Poetry in Detroit Public Schools

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Inside My Pencil: Teaching Poetry in Detroit Public Schools

Inside My Pencil—FINAL Cover Img.jpg
Inside My Pencil—FINAL Cover Img.jpg

Inside My Pencil: Teaching Poetry in Detroit Public Schools


Publication Date: March 28 2017
Paperback: 184 pages
ISBN: 978-1-941531-86-0

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Award-winning author Peter Markus delivers an uplifting and imaginative chronicle of teaching writing to elementary students in Detroit public schools

For over twenty years, award-winning short story writer and novelist Peter Markus has made his living teaching creative writing in the Detroit Public Schools. As a teaching artist with Detroit's longest enduring literary non-profit — InsideOut Literary Arts Project — Markus has inspired thousands of students to become believers in the power of words, armed with nothing but an ordinary pencil — the same beat-up, unsharpened pencil Markus has carried with him, story has it, since he was in the third grade. With nods to Pablo Neruda, Mark Strand, T.S. Eliot, and the vital honesty of his own poetic experience, he invites children to explore the dreamscapes of their imaginary worlds, encouraging even the most resistant students to see what magic and wonder awaits them.

Praise for Inside My Pencil

“Markus empowers his students to turn their simple No. 2 pencils into instruments more magical than any wand at Hogwarts.”

"[Readers] emerge believing a bit more in the magic of creativity."
Publishers Weekly

“Markus writes in spare yet poetic language that is simple enough to be read and understood by younger readers. However, adults—especially writers and teachers—willing to see with their hearts as well as their minds will also be rewarded for reading this unique book. An inventive and inspiring memoir from an innovative educator.”
Kirkus Reviews

Peter Markus’s teaching memoir, is warm, patient, and wise—an enchanting ‘how-to’ sparkling with pedagogical gems.” 
Brooklyn Rail

In prose that is poetic in itself, he brings us into the classroom and feeds us lines his students came up with in response. The creativity and imagination of the kids is a joy to read.” 

“Part memoir, part magic, Inside My Pencil is an ode to the human imagination by one of our best excavators of that imagination. Peter Markus leads us on a journey through the classroom, a journey that also swerves through both the mind and heart. Along the way he shows us singing animals, ladders that extend to the blueness behind the sky, and spaces where ‘we are all in this room looking for God.’ Read this book. It is a book of wonders, a book ‘where anything—no, everything—is possible.’”
—Matthew Olzmann, author of Contradictions in the Design

“In a glowing current of interwoven short essays, Markus carries us into the transformative glow of his classroom, that trap door to the sublime that opens into the magic pencil—a chewed-up, ordinary wand that sparks the spirit behind words, a telescope that allows us, like his visionary Detroit students, to see with a third eye right through the sky's blue into the magic we hold in our own hands. Beyond being merely an enduring river of wisdom for teachers and writers, Inside My Pencil weaves us through the imagination's borderless universe. In hoping to write an ode to children, Markus failed. Instead, he soared beyond: this book bears witness to a love strong enough to save the world heart by heart; it is a ceaseless testament to the beauty of being alive, an ageless reminder to us all that nothing ever dies and to believe in what can and cannot be seen.”
—Robert Fanning, author of Our Sudden Museum

“Not only is Peter Markus a wonderfully gifted fiction writer and poet of immense talent, but he is a passionate, dedicated and generous creative writing teacher of both school children and adults. In this new inspiring book, Mr. Pete shows that he's a true Detroit original. His working class roots and sensibilities have combined to create in him a unique literary voice and an incredible heart for teaching and believing in young writers. He has had a major impact on thousands of young lives of Detroit school children, and this new book is his story. Peter's writing has the ability to bring us all together into the classroom of life where he shares his imaginative techniques and his love of writing and teaching. Peter's new book Inside My Pencil shows us what a lifetime of dedication to the literary arts and to the writing life can teach us all about our shared and connected humanity. He encourages us to take a closer look at what talent and real creativity can be found "inside" the everyday tool of a "pencil." Readers will gain good insights on being an effective creative writing teacher. You will enjoy the experience of  a great literary journey as a reader, and you will have the rich opportunity to see the joy of creativity in action.”
--M. L. Liebler, author of Heaven Was Detroit: Detroit Music from Jazz to Hip Hop

“In Markus’s elegant Inside My Pencil, he calls the classroom a ‘trap door to the sublime, a rabbit hole to the eternal.’ I say: so is this book. Read it, and you’ll be allowed backstage access to quiet heartbreaks and breakthroughs that are the teacher’s life – especially when the classroom is led by this master storyteller. I believe in the power of Markus’ magic pencils. You will, too.”
—Stacy Parker Le Melle, author of Government Girl

“What is it about the Midwest that makes us go all Ecclesiastes with our work? In this (yes, let’s call Inside My Pencil a biblical book) generative genesis of a text, Peter Markus has handcrafted a moving prime moving primer for the primal crafting of our prime directive. In Inside My Pencil (a memoir, a meditation, a Mercator map projection) Markus makes news and makes the new new again (for his students, for us, for himself) renegotiating that ancient saw about there being nothing new under that old poetic fusion-powered endlessly blissful and basking sun. Here there is a time for everything and that time for you, reader, is now.”
—Michael Martone, author of Michael Martone

"I read most of Inside My Pencil in one sitting with a smile on my face. It is a gift of spare and resonant language that earns its delights.  Peter Markus’s syntax, imaginative figurations, and refrains constantly fold in on themselves, creating pockets of density or space. In these pockets the reader is invited to imagine and wonder alongside the lovingly rendered children of Detroit. To encounter so much of their work was a joy, and added to the participatory style of storytelling. Readers are treated to the sensation of sitting in a corner desk during one of Mr. Pete’s illuminated sessions." 
—Jamaal May, author of The Big Book of Exit Strategies

“Peter Markus helps us say yes to a world where magic and transcendence are still possible. This book reaffirms that any one of us—when led by a teacher like Markus—can baptize a page in light.”
—John Rybicki author of We Bed Down Into Water

About Peter Markus

Peter Markus is the Senior Writer with the InsideOut Literary Arts Project in Detroit. He is the author of the novel Bob, or Man on Boat, as well as several other books of short fiction, among them We Make Mud and The Fish and the Not Fish.