|The Crooner Guards the Gate against Skunks|
I realize I’m probably the only one still interested in Robert Lowell’s “Skunk Hour,” but I checked some secondary sources on the poem and found some interesting commentary. I’m offering it up whether or not anyone reads or cares about it. Some would call that heroic on my part (don’t ask me who). Others might offer “stubborn,” “tedious,” “obsessive,” “pedantic” . . . .
(For those who just can’t stand more skunk time, here again are those delightful cloggers from days of yore. Some of you have expressed restrained pleasure as you watched. However, I want to travel back there and live in that house, and watch them dance 24/7. Or do I???).
YouTube - Best Bluegrass Clog Dancing Video Ever Made
Here is the poem, in case someone does want to think about it again.
Skunk Hour- Poets.org - Poetry, Poems, Bios & More
First, there’s the matter of Lowell’s “fairy decorator,” which I ignored because I was stumped. I couldn’t believe that even in the 1950s a man of Lowell’s stature could get away with such flagrant gay-bashing, or would want to. Aren’t artists and intellectuals more enlightened than that? Isn’t there a higher percentage of gays in those circles than in the general population? Wasn’t Elizabeth Bishop, a lesbian, his good friend? Well, I'm a child again; maybe I'm getting used to it.
So I was working for an alternate meaning in “fairy decorator.” Not only did I fail to find one, but also several sources, including Lowell himself, were casual and confident about the derogatory interpretation of “fairy.” So the reference to the decorator’s desire for a wife means he wants to marry for money rather than working for it. Or maybe he wants that desperately to appear more conventional—that is, heterosexual.
My second problem with the poem was my inability to feel involved in its first half or two-thirds. I couldn't figure out why I didn't care about the speaker or the island. So I was glad to read Marjorie Perloff's point that those opening stanzas reflect an elitist East Coast mentality, including a preoccupation with lost status—an heiress, a bishop, a spiffy millionaire. As for the poem's homophobia, she quotes gay poet Frank O'Hara in a 1965 interview: "'Lowell has . . a confessional manner which [lets him] get away with things that are really just plain bad but you're supposed to be interested because he's supposed to be so upset.'" (http://marjorieperloff.com/reviews/lowell-return/)
The speaker of the last three or four stanzas comes across as a more mainstream human with a more universal vulnerability, which has little or nothing to do with social status. Whether you cheer for some peculiar animal charm in the skunks or relate to the alienated speaker, his unease about the approach of skunks is something most people might identify with.
(Except for humans who keep skunks as pets, which is more common than I knew. See Wikipedia on skunk pets).
Okay, that’s still too long, but who’s still reading anyway? Please make a big red Burpee mark on your computer screen at the place where you lost interest and quit.
And yet I wish all a happy Monday. May your banjo stay tuned. May it thrill to every pluck.