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FunTimes Magazine

The Reading Quilt: But, Mostly Love

Feb 25, 2022 08:00AM ● By Rachel Slaughter

You may remember your old school days watching your teacher celebrate Dr. Seuss and Shel Silverstein while dusting off nearly forgotten copies of Whitman and Wordsworth to recite selections like “O Captain. My Captain” (Whitman, 1865) and “My Heart Leaps Up” (Wordsworth, 1807) outdoors, in the presence of bunnies and cherry blossoms. Rare is the teacher, however, who shelves Whitman and Wordsworth to celebrate the poetry that celebrates people of color. Since there is a lack of multicultural literature in schools, many students are not exposed to diverse poets. That is a shame especially since poetry by Black Indigenous People of Color (BIPOC) is rich with the history, joy, and pain of marginalized people who are resilient and hopeful.

Recently, the magical universe of poetry celebrated a significant win. Maya Angelou’s legacy was immortalized in a design featured on a quarter. Created by artist Emily Damstra, and sculpted by Craig Campbell, the image depicts Dr. Angelou’s outstretched arms with a bird’s wings reflected in the background. The first coin in the American Women Quarters Program, the image is meant to inspire people and keep Maya Angelou’s message captured in her memoir I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings alive.

   Unfortunately, recently the magical universe of poetry was devastated by a significant loss. Sandra Turner-Barnes aka “Cadillac Lady”, of Lawnside, NJ, a borough of Camden County, died on January 10, 2022, at the age of 74. 

 Each month “The Reading Quilt” provides a short review of a book that an educator or home school parent can use to spark conversations about culture and race, along with a learning activity that may help students understand human behavior. Using the acronym QUILT, Slaughter offers readers information about the Quality of writing, Universal theme, Imaginative plot, as well as a mini Lesson plan, and Talking points that stem from the book’s premise. This month’s selection is “But, Mostly Love,” by Sandra Turner-Barnes, poet and Black History enthusiast.

Sandra Turner-Barnes

(Image Credit: Caribbean Book Blog)

Sandra Turner-Barnes was born in Camden, NJ, and was a long-time resident of Lawnside, NJ: the town of just 1.5 miles. A lover of all things Lawnside, Turner-Barnes was the borough’s fangirl. The tiny town was happy to claim the classy lady who knew the town’s history like the back of her hand. Being a historian, art-lover, and music enthusiast, are all gems of Sandra’s crown, a rich legacy. Lady Turner-Barnes was also the former director of the Camden County Cultural & Heritage Commission and an adjunct professor in the Rutgers University Roberto Clemente Humanities Course. A gifted and prolific poet and writer, she won the 1995 Ebony Magazine Literary Award for Short Fiction. The author of Beyond the Back of the Bus, Sandra and Geri Allen co-wrote a jazz suite,  an ordered set of instrumental or orchestral/concert band pieces, titled “For the Healing of the Nations.” In the suite, Sandra performed her original poetry with a 26-piece orchestra backing her up.

Quality: The book, which is divided into three chapters, begins with a poem dedicated to a special person. But, Mostly Love, the title of the poetry book, is a line from one of Sandra’s poems about her loving mother who lost her battle with breast cancer in 2003. In her introduction, Sandra writes, “Miss Betty’s (my mother) motherly love and inspiration are gifts God gave me to share.” Certainly, in the poem But, Mostly Love, Sandra shares a piece of her mother, especially her cooking. The poem brings to life Miss Betty’s “hot butter biscuits, and homemade soups. Flavored with herbs, spices, and a wholesome goodness. But, Mostly Love…”

Sandra’s imagery and poetic flair pull the reader into each poem which is like a biography, love letter, or tribute with words that sing and dance from one page to another page with words that reduce the reader to tears. In the poem “Sweet Sisters of the Soul,” Sandra proclaims “I know little of the savage storms that life has blown your way, or even less of the frantic secrets that your mind must keep at bay.” In “When Abbey Sings: A Tribute to Abbey Lincoln, Jazz Vocalist and Actress, 1930-2010,” the reader is escorted to Abbey’s concert where “Everybody sat up and listened--smiling, clapping, loving her, loving themselves.”

Universal theme: Sandra Turner-Barnes is a poet who was influenced by the world, and noteworthy late legends like Gwendolyn Brooks who she met and impressed with her work. The meeting, paramount in Sandra’s charmed life, inspired the poetic tribute she titled “Mamma Poet and Brother Prose.” The theme of But, Mostly Love is accurately captured in the title since the poetic tributes mixed with history lessons is one of mostly love letters. In “High Priestess: A Tribute to Nina Simone, 1933-2003,” you get both a love letter and history lesson in one when Sandra blows word kisses like “compassionate queen,” “gracious griot,” and “Elegant Enigma,”  to Eunice Kathleen Waymon, Nina’s birth name.

Imaginative: Sandra writes with the flair of an artist. Her poetic lines, with the bonus of alliteration, conjure up vibrant colors that stay with you. In “Momma Poet/Brother Prose,” Sandra writes, “Birthing blue brown, black, beige literary babies into that deep dark definitive that can only be deftly defined by still more sweet Black poetry…”

Talking points: In her book, Sandra brings to life several notable people and historically relevant places. The following talking points may be the beginning of research or “I-Search” papers. 

  • Who is Abbey Lincoln and how did she impact the world?

  • Who is Billie Holiday and what significant work did she do?

  • Why is The Belmont Mansion important? 

  • Why does Sandra Turner-Barnes call Jazz a woman? Why does the title make sense in many ways?

  • Why is Sandra’s book divided into three chapters and why are the chapter titles important?

(Photo credit: Chelsea Slaughter)

 Dr. R. A. Slaughter’s (Doc) textbooks Turning the Page: The Ultimate Guide for Teachers to Multicultural Literature, and Turning the Page: A Guide to Securing Multicultural Literature for Schools, both published by Rowman & Littlefield and available in all bookstores, have brought Doc global recognition. For more information, log onto, or email  [email protected]

Read more from Rachel Slaughter:

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