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Wake Forest
University Press

Wake Forest University Press

Dedicated to Irish Poetry

The High Caul Cap

$14.95

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 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 into poetry her late mother’s “tangible gaze.”

Kindle version available at Amazon.com


Reviews

“The title The High Caul Cap suggests the complexities and layers of the poems—the caul with which the lucky are born; the caul that was the mother’s amniotic sac shrouding the baby; the caul through which the baby first sees the world; the caul that is kept on the mantelpiece to protect the child from drowning; the “High Caul Cap,” an Irish set dance; the caul that is the cap we wear every time we think and remember and associate; the caul that bears us through life and death.”
– Lois Marie Harrod, Literary Mama

“McGuckian’s collection of elegies written, mostly, in presumptive anticipation of her mother’s death is wreathed in a stilled, willed intensity of observation. . . .”
– Jordan Smith, Antioch Review

“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

“Where masters of prose enable words to dance off the page, McGuckian liberates the dance itself. Her poetic prowess harks back to modern masters like E. E. Cummings, John Ashberry, and Rainer Maria Rilke.”
– Blakeman, Irish Studies 67

“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.”
– Sameera Siddiqe, Singapore Review of Books

“The poems in The High Caul Cap . . . present the relations of mothers and daughters with great complexity, not simple nostalgia or factual memorization. . . . The presence of death can have its own beauty, and the eponymous poem of The High Caul Cap offers us an image of a time in love with endings . . . McGuckian typically uses elaborate, complex images and situates her characters in situations both oneiric and, sometimes, straightforward. She stitches her images closely together, creating a rich, almost baroque tapestry of loss and difficult love, even as ultimately ‘there is no peace: / no function for the heart to serve / the dear, the best-known face.'”
– Magdalena Kay, World Literature Today

SKU: 978-1-930630-65-9 Categories: , ,

Description

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 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 into poetry her late mother’s “tangible gaze.”

Kindle version available at Amazon.com


Reviews

“The title The High Caul Cap suggests the complexities and layers of the poems—the caul with which the lucky are born; the caul that was the mother’s amniotic sac shrouding the baby; the caul through which the baby first sees the world; the caul that is kept on the mantelpiece to protect the child from drowning; the “High Caul Cap,” an Irish set dance; the caul that is the cap we wear every time we think and remember and associate; the caul that bears us through life and death.”
– Lois Marie Harrod, Literary Mama

“McGuckian’s collection of elegies written, mostly, in presumptive anticipation of her mother’s death is wreathed in a stilled, willed intensity of observation. . . .”
– Jordan Smith, Antioch Review

“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

“Where masters of prose enable words to dance off the page, McGuckian liberates the dance itself. Her poetic prowess harks back to modern masters like E. E. Cummings, John Ashberry, and Rainer Maria Rilke.”
– Blakeman, Irish Studies 67

“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.”
– Sameera Siddiqe, Singapore Review of Books

“The poems in The High Caul Cap . . . present the relations of mothers and daughters with great complexity, not simple nostalgia or factual memorization. . . . The presence of death can have its own beauty, and the eponymous poem of The High Caul Cap offers us an image of a time in love with endings . . . McGuckian typically uses elaborate, complex images and situates her characters in situations both oneiric and, sometimes, straightforward. She stitches her images closely together, creating a rich, almost baroque tapestry of loss and difficult love, even as ultimately ‘there is no peace: / no function for the heart to serve / the dear, the best-known face.'”
– Magdalena Kay, World Literature Today

Additional information

Publication date:

2013