The High Caul Cap

Medbh McGuckian

Cover design for
Wake Forest University Press
by Nathan Moehlmann, Goosepen Studio & Press

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 water imagery in this new volume, which traces the decline and death of the poet’s mother. 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.