The Mathematics of Survival

Poetry gives our language the wings to fly and in difficult times we need strong wings. Starting with just the alphabet, the poetic form allows our ideas to soar. Just like those in our previous anthologies, the student poems in this new collection launch themselves off the page with power and passion – refusing to be tethered.

Thank you to all these NewVIc poets for their contribution to an algebra of humanity starting from a mathematics of survival. Thank you also to Joelle Taylor, Kat Lewis and English PEN for their continued support and commitment to helping our students develop their work.

 “This is a book for those who read over the borders of a page. This is a book for people who write in the margins. This is a book for people who live there too.”  Joelle Taylor, facilitator, English PEN

“The sparkling talent in this group of young writers is fed by their fresh and curious eyes. I believe in a future where these voices are loud.” Kat Lewis – facilitator, English PEN

“The dark vision conjured by the brilliant writers featured in this collection is not an easy one to process…but the creativity and bravery of the young people whose eyes we see through in the Mathematics of Survival is a powerful lesson in resilience to all of us.” Rebekah Murrell – Acting head of programmes, English PEN

Here is a very brief selection from the collection:


This is for

The boy who sits quietly at his desk

In the centre of a battlefield

Studying the mathematics of survival…

From ‘For Hope’ by Abad Mohammad


…This is for

Those in London with little to share

Climbing a ladder of life that is barely there

Getting madder every day

Forgetting the words they were about to say

From ‘Working Classes’ by Jack Galbraith


He needs a compass to navigate the channel

Gets so lost he cannot untangle

When he sails on her seas

He just goes with the breeze

Lost in the Bermuda triangle.

From ‘Navigation’ by Yusuf Mohammed


I am made of mosaic memories

Even though they are cracked-up memories

If I am a stained glass window

One of the panes is broken

There is a hole in the centre of me

Left by a bullet that scattered my family

From ‘Stained glass’ by Vinushan Jegatheesan


Some of the poems relate specifically to the refugee experience:

Day 105…Now here I am in this boat, falling apart and broken, like us. We wanted to get out and now here we are: lost in the vast emptiness. Alone. …

From ‘Dear Diary’ by Rebecca Cavanagh


…I come from the red sea seeping along dustry streets

I am a stone thrown in to the crimson tides

We are the ripples in the red sea

Reaching your shores.

From ‘Humanity’ by Naveed Khan


The constraints of the ‘alphabet poem’ also stimulated some great work from A to Z:


Bloodshed…she dragged her feet across the dry, barren wastelands –

Yelling, screaming crying…but no one came.

Zoned, this entire land was nowhere, isolated from the reaches…

From ‘Is lar nishtay jadki lapari’ (‘Nowhere for the child to go’) by Ikra Nawaz


An introduction to the cruelty of human beings

Because we all seem to live life looking through an idealistic and naïve spyglass crafted by our super-ego

Can it be that our own values divide us rather than unite us?

Vanquish the notion that equality is unachievable,

Working as a collective does not generate hate –

Xenophobia does!

You must realise your potential and importance,

Zealousness will do the rest.

From ‘The humanistic alphabet’ by Hannah Maria Khan


Creative beings

We are writers…

From ‘We are writers’ by Minal Khan, Esa Ahmed and Habib Rahman


The Mathematics of Survival is the latest in our series of collaborations with English PEN which includes Brave New Words and (un)mute. It features contributions from NewVIc students from across the college’s programmes including the Foundation level Step-Up course. The full collection is available as The Mathematics of Survival ISBN: 978-0-9957234-0-5

See also:

Young poets ‘write the wrong’ (June 2015)

Seeking refuge in poetry (September 2016)

Young people debate free speech in the House of Lords (December 2016)

About Eddie Playfair

I am a Senior Policy Manager at the Association of Colleges (AoC) having previously been a college principal for 16 years and a teacher before that. I live in East London and I blog in a personal capacity about education and culture. I also tweet at @eddieplayfair
This entry was posted in NewVIc, Poetry and tagged , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s