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For World Poetry Day

We’re celebrating the poetry of our people.

This World Poetry Day, Hughes Hall students and Fellows have generously lent us their words to help mark the occasion.

World Poetry Day, first celebrated on 21 March 1999, was declared by UNESCO as a day to “honour poets, revive oral traditions of poetry recitals, promote the reading, writing and teaching of poetry, foster the convergence between poetry and other arts.”

It is fitting that connecting the works of our Hughesian poets are themes of disruption. Of transgression. Of challenge. Of pride. Of demanding to be heard. Of passion for learning. And equity. And demanding change.

Thank you for being part of Hughes Hall. Thank you for using your words to change the world. And happy World Poetry Day from us all.

Professor Nidhi Singal, Vice-President

Nidhi Singal is Professor of Disability and Inclusive Education at the Faculty of Education. She has worked extensively with children and young people with disabilities in South Asia and Sub-Saharan Africa. Her work addresses unequal power relations in North-South research partnerships, and advocates a greater focus on the ethics of research dissemination. In 2022, Nidhi was elected Fellow of the Academy of Social Sciences for her outstanding contributions to educational research.


I am more than a footnote,

I am more than an acknowledgement,

I am more than a tick on the EDI form.


I am not silent,

I will not be spoken for,

I will not be written about.

I teach to transgress and disrupt.


I teach to recognise, amplify, and validate.

I teach to listen to the upspoken.

I teach to heal, nurture roots, and develop wings.

I teach to write our story, on our terms.

Nidhi said:
This poem reflects my journey in my faculty, where initial years saw me trying to ‘fit in’; while in later years I found myself struggling against attempts to make me and my scholarship invisible. Today, I find myself in a place where I celebrate being a non-white female scholar and have a strong moral purpose underpinning my work.

My research group, who are the inspiration for this poem, have been my biggest strength in my own healing journey and in (re)discovering the academic I am.

This poem is a celebration of ‘us’: Sakina Jafri, Basirat Razaq-Shuaib, Nikita Jha, Stephanie Nowack, Thilanka Wijesinghe, Camilla Hadi, Chaudhary, Dr Laraib Niaz, Surya Pratap Deka, Sabilah Eboo, Dr Shruti Taneja Johansson, Dr Carly Christensen, Dr Jwalin Patel, Dr Hannah Ware, Dr Aliya Khalid, Dr Seema Nath, Dr Sophia D’Angelo, Dr Meghna Nag Chowdhuri, Dr Pui Ki Patricia Kwok.

Basirat Razaq-Shuaib, PhD student

Basirat Razaq-Shuaib is a doctoral candidate in Disability and Inclusive Education at the Faculty of Education, University of Cambridge. She is also an award-winning children’s author and the founder of The Winford Centre for Children and Women – a charity that provides education and welfare support services for children with developmental disabilities and their families in Nigeria. Her current research explores the perspectives and lived experiences of parents and their children with neurodevelopmental disorders in accessing education in a Nigerian context.


Born of a woman but not like every other,
I am one of those often described as the lesser.
Sometimes I’m also called disadvantaged,
Though I have potentials they are encaged.
I face so many walls so hard to scale,
My education is all but a haze.
Left on the side lines, considered an afterthought,
My spirit sinks seeing how my battles are being fought.
If only they can embrace my unique light
And provide me with opportunities to take flight.
They say they hear my voice and understand my plight.
They say they made laws that entrench my rights.

But all I hear is words, words and more words
About how every child has the same rights.
But of what rights we speak I really don’t know
Because rights as a word is just a homophone.
One that my brain finds rather confusing,
With too many meanings I find it amusing.
But if you mean the one that says all children are equal,
Then I’ll say from where I stand I beg to differ.
Because though you say that all children are equal,
It appears what you mean is some are more equal.
And even when you claim to take some action,
For your convenience you help some children first before the…

Yes, just as I thought, before the others-
The very group that represents the lesser.
Lesser not by choice but by societal standards,
Yet we have no choice our patience you demand.
Even if I understand that resources are scarce,
Isn’t it disheartening to be left for the last?
I ain’t no afterthought, I’m a child just like every other,
With dreams in my heart, with hope to discover.
So before you ask me to wait
Ask yourself, what’s at stake?
Am I giving every child a fair chance
Or perpetuating this circumstance?

I ask you all to widen your view
To see the value in embracing us too.
For when you prioritize those deemed “the lesser,”
You uplift not one child but all children together.
Let’s challenge the notion of limited resources,
And seek creative solutions that unlock better courses.
Because until you choose what must be done
Over what you find convenient,
And place collective well-being
Over self-interest achievements,
You cannot say you have my interest at heart
Or that every child is equal without playing your part.


Basirat said:
This poem highlights the non-prioritisation of children with disabilities in educational reform agendas, and how assumptions around scarcity of resources legitimise their exclusion from education. Written in a child’s voice, the poem challenges policymakers and practitioners to go beyond ‘symbolic inclusion’, to seek creative solutions for the education of children with disabilities and ensure that beyond words every child has the same rights.

This poem was written and performed in response to an invitation by Prof Nidhi Singal (my PhD supervisor) as part of her BAICE keynote address: Reimagining Inclusive Education: Multiplicities of Seeing, Being and Doing, delivered at the 2023 UKFIET Conference. In addition to the content of her keynote, through her delivery style which featured students from her research group and the Global South, she disrupted hegemonic ways of thinking and researching in international education and development which remains dominated by the ‘white gaze’.

Davinder Singh Kharbanda, undergraduate

Davinder Singh Kharbanda is a second-year undergraduate student reading Classics, or at least trying to. The first poem he ever read from start to finish of his own accord (that is to say, aside from things one is forced to read for school) was probably Samuel Taylor Coleridge’s Rime of the Ancient Mariner, and since then he has been intensely interested in poetry in all its aspects. 

My Father Speaks Four Languages

My father hailing from that generation,
That age of men, our heroes, though unsung;
My father, though devoid of education
Was trained by life to speak more than one tongue.
Punjabi first, for She is in his bones,
Which grew, like him, out of the fertile soil;
Rough consonants and rougher nasal tones
Flow from those labourers’ smiles, who all day toil
Amid the dusty din of clamorous towns,
Whose rude unlettered chatters scarce evoke
Her verbal torso, Sanskrit, but her nouns
Imposed by rape of Perso-Arab yoke.
And second Hindi, She, the first’s co-daughter,
Claims equal share in sanguinal descent
From ever-flowing maternal Gangetic Water,
Yet altering Her flavour of accent,
By slender syllables and vowels long
And lessened vigour, made Herself less rude.
By dressing up in silken courtly song,
She royal honours and liberal arts pursued.
The third is Urdu, which allows to him,
Some acquaintance as and when perchance
He gropes about for understanding dim,
For note I said, “Acquaintance” not “Romance”,
For only those can know her who consent
To give Her to the One That had defiled
Her Sisters previously to Their lament
And She alone to That is reconciled.
Lastly, English, of this sceptred isle
Through victories She conquered the world wide
And fast by working wonders mercantile,
But damaged sore my father’s upright pride.
It caused him agony of heart and soul,
He could not speak nor take in what he heard,
With wife and child in tow, he gained control,
And day by day, he learnt it, word by word.

Lyn Dawes, By-Fellow

Lyn Dawes is a By-Fellow of Hughes Hall. Lyn taught science in secondary schools and primary schools, then undertook her PhD study looking at teachers’ uptake of computers in classrooms 1997 – 2000. She has worked for the British Education and Communications Agency (Becta) and taught PGCE and B.Ed students at De Montfort University Bedford, The University of Northampton and the University of Cambridge. She carries out workshops for teachers to support their integration of oracy into the curriculum, and has written books, book chapters, journal articles, as well as blogs for Oracy Cambridge.

Silent Reading

In from play, he practices another breakthrough,
silent reading. His mouth moves to the
assistance of his eyes, and he thinks speaking,
nibbling at the fresh milk of imagination
with his wobbly teeth. He’s puzzled
about which aspects of himself are durable,
he thinks he is his body, lithe and strong,
a little more proficient every day. No
inkling of the way things may develop
disturbs his quartered heart; his bones are flexible
and how they’ll harden isn’t his concern.

‎                                                 He reads
his story book as if it were a manual
for how to go on, calculating
ways to be from tales of silver ponies and gold
dragons, reconciled by the end. He skips
the words he doesn’t really recognise, like
illness, poverty, defeat, disgrace, and pain,
he sounds them accurately and moves on
to things that have a meaning.

‎                                      The world spins
down its atmosphere; none of the stars
is someone else’s sun; he gathers
that he lives in many worlds
inclusive of enchanted fortresses, bad
wolves and absent giants, castles, caves,
a treasure map to follow, speaking stories,

some making sense of some of it,
and some no sense at all.

Stephanie Nowack, PhD student

Stephanie Nowack is a PhD researcher at Hughes Hall. As a LEGO Foundation and Cambridge Trust scholar, she is based at the Faculty of Education within the PEDAL Centre, CaNDER, REAL Centre, and the Pac lab. Her research explores transgressive spaces of education. In particular, she focuses on educators’ experiences of a pedagogy of play for autistic learners in South Africa.

Learning to disrupt: education in liminal spaces

In vibrant discussions, in laughter’s sound,
Transgressions take root, new boundaries are found.

In the heart of the classroom, with love to impart,
Teachers guide with passion, igniting each heart.

In classrooms ablaze with the light of the unseen,
Teachers illuminate, making visible what has been.

Rupturing past knowledges, forging paths untold,
In the tapestry of education, stories unfold.

In spaces of transgressions, where norms are redrawn,
Perspectives unfold, and multiplicities transform.

Stephanie said:
This poem was inspired by the collective scholarship within Prof Nidhi Singal’s research group and the Cambridge Network for Disability and Education Research. These are spaces of rich learning.

The poem explores the transformative nature of education within transgressive or liminal spaces. It celebrates the disruption of norms, and the importance of love within educational contexts.

Lauren H, MPhil student

Lauren H is a Canadian international student pursuing an MPhil in Management and building a mental wellness start-up.

In Quiet Corners

In quiet corners of my mind,
Echoes linger,
Echoes of uncertainty,
Whispers of doubt dance in the shadows,
But I grasp at their strings,
Trying to unravel the tangled threads,
Of my existence.

I lie here, stagnant, refusing to rise,
Until I decide I’m untangled enough,
I profess self-love,
Yet it feels insufficient,
My mind refuses to let it be enough.

What is the point, I wonder,
Of this fragile thing called life?
I sought refuge from pain,
I succeeded,
But now that liberation looms near,
I am paralyzed by the void it leaves behind.

Others, they seek joy,
Chase after fleeting moments of happiness,
But I, I find no solace in such pursuits.
What purpose is there,
In the pursuit of ephemeral bliss?

Perhaps, I muse,
We need no grand design,
No divine decree to guide us.
Perhaps existence, in its raw simplicity,
Is purpose enough.

By casting aside, the shackles
Of existential angst,
And embrace the fluidity of purpose,
For in the ebb and flow of life,
We find the freedom to simply be.