About the Book
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. Throughout Grimoire, Sherrard explores the precarity of black mothering over the last two centuries and the creative and ingenious modes of human survival.
Praise for Grimoire
Listed as a “New & Noteworthy” Poetry Collection by the New York Times.
Named by New York Public Library as one of 2020’s “Best Books for Adults.”
Sherrad’s lyricism alone makes the poems worth reading, but uncovering the layers of allusions is a large part of the joy of the poems. Referencing everyone from Shakespeare and Toni Morrison, Nina Simone to Beyonce, the book is woven with bright threads that create a rich tapestry of culture—offering the audience much to ponder long after the poems end.
Cherene Sherrard reminds us that poetry, like cooking, is as much about ingredients as ingenuity. Her ingredients are positively cornucopian, but it’s Sherrard’s keen, enlivening spirit that gives this remarkable book its flavor. She makes poems out of fiddle duos, Funkadelic dance-offs, “sequins of spun sugar,” and especially the first cookbook published by an African American woman. She finds poetry in restoring hair color; she transforms food and people with ginger. Sherrard shows us how to make language, wherever we find it, both tool and weapon. The fabulous Grimoire offers recipes, spells, and instructions for survival.
—Terrance Hayes, author of American Sonnets for My Past And Future Assassin
Sherrard’s Grimoire vivifies Black womanhood and motherhood. Seeking an ancestral cipher against the grim statistics / of racial math” sends Sherrard to the palm reader, the poets, the musician, the maternity ward, and the first cookbook published by an African-American woman for possibilities. Circumstances of birth and biology, systemic prejudices, and outmoded societal norms are confronted in language of formal elegance and precision that can also cut to the quick; “Call it survivor’s sparkle. …” the speaker stingingly quips about an enslaved woman arriving on American shores. Ultimately, the poems themselves are the spell and salve that dazzle, writing that conjures the sober magic of endurance.
—Chanda Feldman, author of Approaching the Fields