Medbh McGuckian was the first woman to be named writer-in-residence in The Queen's University of Belfast, where she now regularly teaches. Her previous books of poetry include The Book of the Angel and The Currach Requires No Harbours. Her work has been anthologized in numerous collections, including The Wake Forest Book of Irish Women’s Poetry.
The High Caul Cap is both the name of a traditional Irish air and a symbol for the link remaining after birth between mother and child. The caul was superstitiously regarded as a good omen and so kept at the hearth as a preservative against drowning. This symbolic gesture helps us to fathom the watery imagery in this new volume, which traces the decline and death of the poet’s mother.
Medbh McGuckian’s writing is always profoundly sensual, but now, with the maternal body at stake in its meditations, the physical takes on supernatural powers. Poetry relies on the senses for proof much as the doubter relies on touch to be convinced of the miraculous. Mother-daughter relationships move down the generations (“I discover a photograph / of my beautiful sculpted daughter” from “Corner of Field with Farm”) trying to establish the exact nature of their love.
As in many of McGuckian’s books, blue is a sacred color (of the Madonna, the sea, the sky) and saints and angels appear throughout the volume as though to remind us of how the masters used such icons to transform their myths into art. McGuckian uses these icons to grieve for, interrogate, and transform her late mother’s “tangible gaze” into poetry.
“The musical references of these central poems and pre-christian allusions throughout the book uncover the primal instincts which the death of a blood relative evokes. The cycles of birth and death are everywhere in this collection. There is the recognition of loss, but also a continued presence of the dead, of memories, of bonds which are not broken.”
—Anna Livia Review
“Symbols begin to gather meaning through rereadings and a constant tweaking of the inward voice of the meticulous reader…. Craft, to McGuckian, encompasses concealment and exploration, as well as agitation and repose…. The poems circulate in a heliotropic universe, biding their time like ceili dancers.”
Wake Forest University Press