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Bad Newz

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(Alec Soth: "Kenny and Bill—Bad Newz,
                        Grand Rapids, Minnesota")

They tilt their guitars and stare.
Each boy puts one foot toward
Us, one where a trailing wire
Would run to an amplifier
If amplifiers were there.
Bill's Gibson glitters like ore.
Kenny's Ibañez hoards

White noise in its black fretboard.
Bill's double chin shows. Is it fair
To mention his pudge? Kenny's hair
Gets stuck behind one ear.
Each of the brothers wears
A T-shirt, loose jeans, and a pair
Of bruised high-tops. A pear-

Shaped garbage bag hugs a steel bar.
The big rectangular blur
Behind them looks like the door
To a walk-in refrigerator.
Maybe dad is a restaurateur,
A diner owner who requires
Kenny to spend six hours

A week moving cases of beer,
While Bill chops potatoes, or scours
Grease from the checkerboard floor.
Bill imagines a national tour:
CBGB's. The Black Cat. Hardcore.
Or metal: the glow and allure
Of arenas and open-air

Pyrotechnics at dusk, a chauffeur.
Or do they hope modestly for
Sideman jobs, L.A. 'burbs, the secure
Work of studio engineers?
Two boys hold two guitars
In a basement kitchen, and care
What you think of them. Next year

They promise to practice more.
Right now their repertoire
Is six songs, seven chords,
Five originals, and a spare
Reworking of REM's four-
Minute anthem about a lost car:
"Can't Get There from Here."

Stephen Burt, "Bad Newz" from Belmont. Copyright © 2013 by Stephen Burt.  Reprinted by permission of Graywolf Press. www.grawolfpress.org
Source: Belmont (Graywolf Press, 2013)
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Bad Newz

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  • Stephen Burt is a poet, literary critic, and professor. In 2012, the New York Times called Burt “one of the most influential poetry critics of his generation.” He grew up around Washington, DC and earned a BA from Harvard and PhD from Yale. Burt has published three collections of poems: Belmont (2013), Parallel Play (2006), and Popular Music (1999).

    Burt's works of criticism include Close Calls with Nonsense: Reading New Poetry (2009), which was a finalist for the National Book Critics Circle Award; The Art of the Sonnet—written with David Mikics (2010); The Forms of Youth: 20th-Century Poetry and Adolescence (2007); Randall Jarrell on W.H. Auden (2005), with Hannah Brooks-Motl; and Randall Jarrell and His Age (2002).

    Burt has taught at Macalester College and is now Professor of English at Harvard University. He lives in the suburbs of Boston with his spouse, Jessie Bennett, and their two children.

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