TOM VAUGHAN inspiration

About the poet

Tom Vaughan is a former British diplomat who has served in the Middle East, Africa, and the US, and whose career has also included experience of conflict zones such as Afghanistan and the Balkans. He continues to work on international affairs.

Tom worked as a journalist before graduating from Exeter University and completing post-graduate studies at Oxford. His novel, No Second Prize, based on his experience in post-colonial Zimbabwe, was published by Andre Deutsch in 1993.

Tom’s poems have been published in several magazines and anthologies. One of his poems, Proposal, first published in Orbis, was included in the BBC series/anthology Essential Poems (to Fall in Love with). Tom is a member of the Original Poets of Clapham Stanza Poetry Group, and four of his poems were included in their 2018 anthology Uncommon. Tom’s poem Beltway Blues, from his Envoy collection, was included in the Songs of Love and Loss cycle by painist/composer Sir Stephen Hough, premiered in a Wigmore Hall concert on 2 January 2023, sung by Nicky Spence.

In the words of Helena Nelson of the HappenStance Press, which published a short selection of his poetry in 2010 and a longer collection – Envoy – in 2013, Tom’s poems demonstrate that ‘elegant formalism and contemporary style can still go hand in hand’.

HappenStance Sampler

HappenStance Sampler

My Last Beer

I left my last beer in the fridge

meaning to open it tonight –

no note tells me who’s taken it.


I kid myself that it’s all right,

that sitting in this hard-earned peace

I can even taste its cool, clear gold –


but I’m not fooled. It’s so unfair.

And other drinks can’t slake the thirst 

for what’s not there.


The poems in Envoy reflect Tom’s experience overseas, commenting (often with barbed wit) on people, places and the moral ambiguities of diplomatic life. His deepest concern is with the guilt carried by those whose decisions—however much they may or may not be justified—mean the death and injury of others. But the only certainty for all of us, as he concludes in Via Dolorosa, is that ‘suffering / is in the end / all we can share’.

You can download an e-copy of Envoy here.

Tom Vaughn Envoy


I was in the room when we all said yes

knowing it would mean the death

of some of those we sent.

                                        But not so many.


Which of us now would still say the same –

                                        if any?

Some Poems of Tom Vaughan

Difficult Person

These days, I’m treated as a difficult person:

not asked to stay, because I rise too early;

fussy with food, halfway to being a vegan;

a bore on reading Montaigne, readying for death.


I should carry a bell, to caution difficult person,

so normal people could carefully avoid me:

a freak; a failure. Embarrassing. A has-been,

best left to walk alone upon this earth.


When did I become a difficult person?

It’s not as though I’m smelly, crude, or surly.

I was never as Right as Trump or Left as Corbyn.

A standard issue baby boy, at birth.


It’s lonely, now I’m labelled difficult person,

cut out of emails, laughed at in discussion,

handled with care, best kept well out of sight.

Even my family seem to share the view


I’ve gone downhill – have coarsened, sharpened, darkened.   

On the other hand, don’t think the news is crushing!

Cast out, I’ve time to read, to think, to write,

ignore the rules, transgress instilled taboos,


wear oddball clothes, and when anyone will listen

say what I want. To see things like an alien,

without the taught assumptions we call sight,

as if for the first time, completely other, new –


their pristine weirdness for the blackballed few.

So maybe you should mull being difficult too . . . 


Published HQ Poetry Magazine number 60, Jan-Feb 2023


Youngsters throw their lives away

in war, on drugs, in wild horseplay


the old would live theirs twice, and pray

each night to last another day


those in-between, deep in life’s fray,

don’t have the time such thoughts to weigh,

their minds on offspring or on pay


till mourning ripeness, yesterday


Published in Snakeskin 307, June 2023


The people have spoken –

but what did they say?

A dead chicken’s entrails

after all, may

provide a more certain

clue as to what

course we should follow . . .

And even if not


the other bits could be

poule for the pot.


Published in Lighten Up Online issue 61, March 2023

The Real Me

I’ve long believed in time

I’ll prove myself to be

the decent, honest person

I sense deep inside me


but today, this sinking feeling:

what if I’ve got it wrong

and all that’s an illusion

stringing me along


by soothingly suggesting

that if you knew me well

you’d think me bound for heaven –

while I lock myself in hell.

Published in HQ Poetryt Magazine number 60, Jan-Feb 2023


The Way You Look Tonight

No way, now I’m awfully low

now the world is cold

I could feel a glow just thinking of you

and the way you looked that night.


Yes you were lovely, with your smile so warm

and your cheek so soft

there was nothing for me but to love you

and the way you looked that night.


Though it’s true my tenderness grows

as fear tears me apart

while that tube that wrinkles your nose

touches my foolish heart –


aching at this brutal change,

at the practised charm

of nurses who arrange

(‘cause they’re paid to) just the way you look tonight.


Mm, mm, mm, mm

just the way you look tonight.

With apologies to Dorothy Fields and Jerome Kern.

Published in Snakeskin 307, June 2023

The Land

Let’s pretend that the war

could be over, and peace

reigned even if only

this evening. O please


pick up your anger

and soak it with mine

in six large barrels

of miracle wine


and then let us dance

like lovers, as though

this land’s many meanings

didn’t all signal no


and we could make ploughshares

out of our swords

and translate the past

into one shared world


though tomorrow the daybreak

would scatter the night

and we would both stumble

into the light


where smooth olives glisten

in the warm sun

like belts of bright bullets

ripe for a gun.

Published on Hull University Middle East Study Centre website, 2022

and in Professor Raphael Cohen-Almagor’s December 2022 Politics Newsletter


In Memory of Albrecht Haushofer, author of the Moabit Sonnets, killed 23 April 1945


I’ve never had to stand up to some fascist

bully, or to camp out in a square

protesting against the blood-soaked dictator

who runs my country. No cocksure imperialist


controls my state; no simplistically earnest

missionary insists I learn a prayer

to another god than mine; no doctrinaire

ideologue has me on his blacklist.


I’ve never waited in a cold, damp cell

for the dawn when faceless men will drag me out

to the noose, or the firing squad. No brutal lout


has tortured me for days until I tell

the lies he wants to hear. I merely scout


the freedom of my chosen prison: doubt.


 These days, who’s at the country’s helm? The bland

leading the bland . . .  Dull politicians whose

bedtime reading is opinion polls,

so spin-controlled and focus-grouped they blend


into a compound breed. Their foes, the closed

minds of ISIS; the bureaucratic fools

who’ve messed up Europe; Putin. Each day’s news

threatening their imagined Disneyland.


But then, I’ve never tried to argue for

my own invented world, or made a stout

defence of my beliefs, or sought the clout


to shape my people’s destiny. Unsure

of all such certainties, I merely scout


the prison of my chosen freedom – doubt.

First published Acumen 84, Jan 2016


I stopped believing many years ago

even in non-belief, so why sit here

this winter morning, listening

to Sunday Worship on the radio

from St Martin-in-the-Fields? And to a choir

not so much singing as inheriting


the chanted fables generations pass

each to the next, as though they were handrails

into the future and could guide

us through a lifetime in which nothing lasts

except their solace – a thought which both appals

and fascinates, for what if such well-tried


harmonies say something tuned and true

about the way we can atone with age,

how we should be with one another,

how I both could and should have been with you,

and could still be even at this settled stage

of our long discord? What if this chance encounter


is not mere chance, but one of those rare moments

which offer insight into how the world

is more than all we see or hear

or touch – some inner, outer, spiritual endowment,

an unexpected cadence overheard,

which everyone, and everywhere, could share?


So let the old words comfort if they can –

they’ve done good service down the troubled years

helping us to come to terms

with what usually seems not just absurd, unplanned,

but a void our shocked imagination fears

and that unsung language only silence learns.


Published in The Spectator, 15 April 2017

Poetry publishers


Some of Tom’s poems have been published in the following online publications:

Get in touch with Tom here