Named after a magical textbook, Cherene Sherrard’s Grimoire is a poetry collection centered on the recovery and preservation of ancestral knowledge and on the exploration of black motherhood. Incorporating experiences of food preparation, childrearing, and childbearing, the book begins with a section of poems that re-imagine recipes from one of the earliest cookbooks by an African-American woman: Mrs. Malinda Russell’s A Domestic Cookbook. Mrs. Russell’s voice as a nineteenth century chef is joined in conversation with a contemporary amateur cook in poetic recipes that take the form of soft and formal sonnets, introspective and historical lyric, and found poems. In the second section, the poet explores black maternal death and the harrowing circumstances surrounding birth for women of color in the United States.
Even while confronting the dangers and tragedies of contemporary black life, Sherrard creates hopeful projections of the future. She imagines an afterlife in which souls of black mothers who have died in childbirth get to travel into space with the reluctant help of the astrophysicist Neil deGrasse Tyson, and she positions a doula as a figure of salvation who intervenes and advocates for black mothers, challenging the dehumanizing practices of early obstetrics, genetics, and pseudo-science. Throughout Grimoire, Sherrard explores the precarity of black mothering over the last two centuries and the creative and ingenuous modes of human survival.