The Rude Poet Presents Himself: Breton, Spenser, and Bad Poetry
This essay explores how Elizabethan poets transform conven- tional gestures of self-deprecation to negotiate the competing demands of rhetoric, the classics, social status, and ethics. To concede (or at least defer) the question of evaluation opens up space for experiment, for what Breton and Spenser both refer to as newness. Because the terms of such self-criticism blur dis- tinctions between shortcomings of style and of substance, they become a vocabulary for close-reading poetry’s action in the world. Thus Spenser uses terms like “rude,” “baseness,” “rough,” and “dischorde” to wrestle with style but also poetic identity and purpose: tracing relationships among his archaic diction and colloquial forms, his interpretive difficulty, his plainspoken didacticism, and his sense of the value of poetry.