In 2016 Milwaukee poet, writer, and teacher Kavon Cortez-Jones self-published his first book, Club Noir, the title coming from not a physical location but a thought projection, a mash up homage to the cafes and bars Cortez-Jones frequents in his spare time, pen in hand, jotting down thoughts in his notebook.
“Club Noir is a hypothetical café and nightclub on MLK Drive where people come to be human – everyone of all different races and backgrounds are mixing and mingling and getting along,” Cortez-Jones explains. “The narrations articulate my story and how I grew up in Milwaukee. My friend (Madison Poet Laureate) Angie Trudell Vasquez told me write down your story, cause no one else will. And I love her for telling me that.”
After his 2016 print run of Club Noir, a then 22-year-old Cortez-Jones distributed his book at street level, bicycling between hangout spots and selling copies out of his backpack.
Club Noir is full of optimism. In Paris of the Midwest, a loving tribute to Milwaukee, Kavon imagines himself sitting on top of the US Bank Building, feet dangling off the side. “The sky was a purplish-blue quilt on my shoulders/ the moon wore a big Wisconsin cheese smile/ I could see the entire city from that height/ probably even as far as Lambeau Field…if I had my glasses” He describes scenes of the city below him — people enjoying beer, of course, his alma mater, Riverside High, bicyclists on the Oak Leaf Trail, seeing musicians and poets performing at the Miramar Theater.
Cortez-Jones describes Milwaukee as having the “perfect amount of people. It’s a big small town.” He likes the seasons and says Milwaukee “is diverse although it’s segregated. But there’s a community of people willing to progress and push Milwaukee forward.”
Another Club Noir poem, “Fried Baloney-N-Kool-Aid” recalls how young Cortez-Jones and his family scrapped together money to come up with something to eat from the corner store, noting that “momma made it work.”
To read Cortez-Jones’s work is great, but to hear him perform and see his stage presence is fantastic. He brings his writing to life with an infectious, enthusiastic energy that’ll make you as excited as he is for exploring Milwaukee, fried baloney, or whatever else he’s talking about.
Now Cortez-Jones is producing a second edition of Club Noir, with a release party happening February 12 at Between Two Galleries in Walker’s Point. There’s one new poem included, “Love Letter to Milwaukee” and an updated bio “because I’m completely different from where I was five or six years ago.” Some of those changes — Cortez-Jones works as a Tae Kwon Do and meditation and conscious breathing instructor at Penfield Montessori Academy.
Work means less time to create, but Cortez-Jones keeps writing as a part of his life by penning a daily haiku. “No pressure, it’s just to make sure that I write at least a little bit,” Cortez-Jones says. He’s now written hundreds of haikus over the last couple years, and this year he says a focus will be on daily journaling in his Composition notebooks, one of which is always on hand.
Most of all, Cortez-Jones is trying follow a simple mantra these days: “Take it one day at a time and chill out.”
The Club Noir release party is Feb. 12 at Between Two Galleries (423 W. Pierce St.) 7-10pm. Spoken word performers Darlin Nikki Janzen and Mario the Poet are among the other performers at the event. Admission is free but donations are encouraged.