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At Poets Bookshop in Bishop Arts, a Writer Creates a Community Around Poetry

Marco Cavazos views his small book shop as an important way to bring people together around poetry.
Marco Cavazos

Marco Cavazos never set out to publish a book of poetry. He’d write poems at the end of a long day, using the medium to navigate complicated emotions spurred by events in his life.

Cavazos is the owner of Poets Bookshop in the Bishop Arts District, a quaint bookstore with a focus on poetry that opened in January 2020. When Cavazos started writing the poems that would eventually end up in his collection, he’d recently gone through a divorce and was mourning the end of a 10-year relationship. He would write poems in between finishing chapters in his novel.

“It was never intentional to make this a collection,” he said. “One day I just realized I had all these kinds of similar existential love poems.”

These poems are published in Cavazos’ collection, Some Notes on Love, which explores the question of human existence, how humans relate to each other, and how we can hurt and love each other. When Cavazos was ready to share it with the world, he submitted it to a couple of traditional publishers. After striking out, Cavazos realized he could publish the book himself.

“I sourced the printing, I did my own editing, my own layout, all that stuff,” Cavazos said. “I got to the point where I just wanted to put something out there. And I’m at a point where I want to write poetry and focus on that. If I can sell enough at a handful of bookstores, then I don’t really need traditional publishing.”

Marco Cavazos

Cavazos’ collection feels relatable and accessible, even as he plays with existentialism in his verses. They can be simple. “Poem,” for instance, reads “You/ in that yellow dress./ Jesus.” His words convey emotion and paint not just an image, but an entire story in the reader’s mind.

Cavazos has tried to make his poems inviting instead of intimidating, trying to attract readers who may find the medium unapproachable. Self-publishing gave him the freedom to explore.

More authors are choosing the self-publishing route. Some are turned off by a publishing industry that has historically had difficulty with inclusivity and diversity—both with their own staff and the authors they represent—and decided to go it alone.

Cavazos, who comes from the Tejano borderlands and is an avid traveler, spends half his time in Mexico, where he’s noticed a more lively and impassioned literary culture than here in the United States.

“You have a lot of poetry protests, and there are bookstores everywhere,” Cavazos said. “You see a lot of specialty bookstores, like feminist bookstores, LGBTQ bookstores, bookstores with Latin American literature. You see a lot more people reading.”

Cavazos wants his store, Poets Bookshop, to serve as a beacon for writers and readers alike.

“When we first opened, we put tables out front and some inside,” Cavazos said. “We had a typewriter on every table and paper, and a little card saying how to use the typewriter. Then when COVID hit we put all that away.”

But Cavazos said he now has plans to bring them back out. He wants to host poetry readings and workshops. Cavazos sees this as a way to make poetry a release from the sort of everyday stressors that he used the medium to exorcise.

“People don’t really know what poetry is anymore,” he said. “They think it’s just old works from a long time ago, with very metered rhymes. But most modern poetry doesn’t rhyme anymore, and it’s more raw and real.” 

Cavazos recently read Everyday We Get More Illegal by Juan Felipe Herrera, which explored migrant issues and human rights. He said he notices this type of political poetry gaining traction, such as a collection released last year by the rapper Propaganda. His collection, titled Terraform: Building a Better World, featured essays and poems that explore how our world is inequitable and unjust, and how we can fix it by reshaping our friendships, communities, and politics.

This type of hybrid work, such as when music overlaps with poetry, can open up the medium to a new audience. And, of course, it also proves that poetry can be modern, that the medium has its finger on the pulse of the most immediate issues in our world today. Collections like Herrera’s and Propaganda’s are helping us reimagine what poetry is in our present day.

“Poetry is a way to express and understand the human condition,” Cavazos said. “Writing poetry, especially, is a great way to clear your head. It’s dealing with things that are hard to deal with, everything from the more mundane things, like heartbreak, to the bigger things, like who we are and why we’re here. For me it’s meditation, it’s where I find peace. And I think you get all of these benefits too from reading poetry.”

Poets Bookshop is located at 506 N. Bishop Ave.