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.
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’.
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’.
Although hard copies of Envoy are sold out, you can buy and download an e-copy below.
The Muslim Graveyard, Tel Aviv
The clutch of trees across the road
was once a Muslim cemetery.
An old man told me, Long ago –
when I was young – it was a dare
at night, as Jews, to venture there.
The sea-front Hilton towers nearby,
though tourists sheltering there won’t know
small squads of schoolboys used to goad
each other, shit-scared, to steal where
at ease they take the evening air.
What ghost would have the nerve to show
his face? Or claim in this abode
they’re out of place, and occupy
what still remains his final lair –
which no green youth now fears to share.
That old man’s pensive, long download
included tales of family
who’d stayed in Łódż, and perished. So,
if you think history’s unfair –
to whom? And how on earth compare?
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.
Some Poems of Tom Vaughan
How breathlessly we hoped our slow
childhood would hurry past
so we could live unsupervised,
unleashed and untypecast –
how breathlessly we joined the hunt
once out there on our own
for partners, jobs, success, or just
the thrill of the unknown –
how breathlessly we now hold on
as the day draws swiftly near
when we shall indeed be breathless
a bit too long, I fear.
Published Snakeskin 284, May 2021
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.
Published Acumen 84, Jan 2016
Not Brussels Sprouts
Everyone looks so deadly serious
as though we’ve turned up for a funeral,
or are the chosen few who’ve answered to the call
of some new prophet, sent to chastise us.
Our carbon footprint must be minimal:
we’ve all arrived by bicycle or bus.
Each reader’s free verse grates, wokely self-righteous.
We care so much it drives me up the wall.
And yet – an inner voice now loudly shouts –
nothing they’re saying is what you don’t believe,
and who needs all that formal stuff to weave
a web of words which manage to achieve
a higher purpose? Why poke fun with such doubts?
Well, poems should be sweets, not Brussels sprouts.
Published in The Haiku Quarterly 55&56, 2021
Strange, that there was so much doubt around
despite the pillar of fire, the manna falling
from a cloudless sky; their leader’s obvious calling.
Didn’t they wonder who it was who’d wound
the Red Sea back? Who’d given them firm ground
to exit Egypt? What were they doing stalling?
No wonder he found it so appalling:
after all he’d done, surely they were bound
to be believers?
There are no such signs when Ruth,
despite his absence, decides which way to turn,
choosing his people even though he stays aloof,
pouring her heart out while he by his stern
silence cold-shoulders what she feels as truth.
Not knowing – am I blessed, or cursed, to yearn?
Published in Snakeskin 268, January 2020
The house repainted, pristine white,
the roof repaired, the shutters fixed,
grass freshly cut, hedge trimmed, weeds plucked
no more with planted flowers to mix –
our papers sorted, books arranged
by category on dusted shelves,
the floors clean-swept, such photos kept
as tell the story we’ve approved
in gentle conversations when
over an evening drink or two
we’ve both agreed the past we need
to help us as we start anew –
if time could stop it should stop now
while we sit quietly, hand in hand,
watching as one the setting sun,
knowing we’ve reached the Promised Land.
Published in The Haiku Quarterly 55&56, 2021
Portrait of a Lady
This is my country, right or wrong.
But is this my country’s evensong?
This is my country, losing its clout.
This is my country – on the way out?
This is my country, land of the free –
where we’ve freely decided to be all at sea.
This is my country, where what adds to the churn
is Boris performing another U-turn
over Covid, or Brexit, or Huawei . . . Perhaps
it’s the end of the era of rule by Good Chaps.
This is my country, proud of its past,
This is my country, albeit miscast
for an age in which others are making the rules
most certainly not of our top Public Schools
which gave us high standards, if mostly double.
This is my country, deeply in trouble.
This is my country, in search of a role
to play in the world once we’re back in control –
or is it an outing down Memory Lane
as though we could paint the globe pink once again?
If so, is the trip up a long garden path?
This is my country, good for a laugh . . .
But we’ve had knocks before and we’ve always come through
and we’re best on our own, and isn’t it true
that we didn’t belong in a project to blur
the divisions which make us who we are?
And we’ve always the Yanks! But though Biden’s not Trump
the thought still brings many to earth with a bump
(and must we become Uncle Sam’s chicken dump?).
This is my country – right? Or wrong?
This is my country, going . . . going . . . gone . . .
Published in Morning Star 19 November 2020
A Winter’s Tale
I think it should have been the other way round,
beginning on a high – a swirl of laughs,
chance meetings, marriages. The unexplained sound
of music. Pauses for sunny photographs.
Plus the kind of magic he would have reserved
to sprinkle last page stardust on those who
stand shaken, but emotionally bestirred,
as one, wondering, young, in a world made new.
Till somewhere in Act III the tone would start
to darken, and the poetry become
tortuously thrilling, like a heart
twisted and tempted. The fun
are separated, this time for good.
Storms rip ships apart; upright souls drown.
Misunderstandings unleash murder, and
it’s cold and selfish in the dangerous wood
in which the exiles huddle.
The curtain comes down
as the mocking villain reassumes the land.
First published in A Writer’s Forum #148, February 2014
Who’s Who In The Pew
Overall, respondents in nations with lower gross domestic product are more likely to say that belief in God is necessary to be moral and have good values. In other words, there is an inverse relationship between GDP per capita and the percentage of the public that draws this connection between belief in God and morality.
(Pew Research Centre, results of 2019 survey)
If the poor are more inclined
to assume that there’s a God
is that an unsurprising stat
or is it rather odd?
Does it mean that Marx was right
(Mass – opium for the masses,
promoted by the privileged
to placate the lower classes)
or does lacking worldly goods
liberate the needy
to lead an inner life denied
to the wealthy and the greedy?
Or do those who argue either
and God (if there’s indeed a God)
doesn’t care what you believe
or if you’re saint or sinner
or full-of-beans or bored
or consecrate the whole weekend
to worshipping the Lord
or if you render to him
or render unto Caesar,
or pause to puzzle over such a
but lonely as hell, in heaven,
was tempted to create
an endless Soap which every night
would keep him up too late?
Published in Lighten Up Online Issue 54, June 2021
Some of Tom’s poems have been published in the following online publications:
- Snakeskin online poetry magazine A monthly poetry webzine edited by George Simmers.
- Lighten Up Online The quarterly light verse webzine founded by Martin Parker and edited by Jerome Betts.
Get in touch with Tom here