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

On Top 


These days, the woman has to be on top,

astride the guy with whom the roles have flipped –


she sets the pace on their erotic trip

until her flagging partner pleads – stop . . . STOP!


On stage, an actress plays the male lead part;

on screen, she’ll be the bright detective who


solves murders, managing a family too,

attractive, empathetic, super-smart.


About time too: for centuries their role’s

been whore or virgin, while assertive blokes


were down the pub exchanging dirty jokes

or in the cockpit, at the plane’s controls,


or in the pulpit, putting all the blame

on Eve, for having knowledge as her aim.

On Top


All well and good, and yet the gloomy stats

reveal that worldwide men remain the sex


who make the rules, earn more, and – more complex –

are still the longed-for (even by mothers) brats.


The charge sheet darkens: most murders are committed

by men, on women – often husbands killing 


wives they’ve used as punchbags after drinking

sessions with their mates. And why’s God pictured


in most religions as a bearded male?

Why should it be crack-brained even to hope   


that one day there might be a female pope?

Did a feminist colleague hit it on the nail? –


ninety percent of culture and belief

is men claiming the right to give us grief.

On Top


The issues nowadays of course go wider:

LGBTQIA+, Roe/Wade,


what to think of comments JK Rowling made . . .

Yesterday’s liberals are now outsiders


unless they’ve learnt the Newspeak. When the Taliban

kick women out of schools and jobs, and gays


in Africa are treated as depraved

it’s easy to know exactly where one stands,


or when Putin sends his troops into Ukraine.

But here what’s right/politically correct


can change so rapidly, with no respect

for those with question marks, although Montaigne


observed that while we’re hard-wired to seek truth

it’s only known to God, for all we sleuth.

On Top


Time to confess: I wasn’t the perfect husband.

My own career came first, and even now


I flunk my half of household chores, somehow

(despite myself) instinctively old-fashioned.


I can claim to be a victim in my turn,

of upbringing, of school, of peer groups or


the era I was born in, and ignore

the voice of conscience and this deep-down churn


about my failure to do as well as you

in translating love into daily life


and keeping pledges made when, man and wife,

we promised to be not merely physically true


to one another, but also that we’d dare

much more than tasks, our inner worlds to share . . .


On Top


Dover Beach has always been a favourite

but I wonder, did she feel a bit ignored


and (Dover Bitch!) rate him a gloomy bore

to be fussing over a verse on their wedding night?


In any case, that yearning still hits home,

to bind together, in bold equality


in a world in which there is no guarantee

of anything but taxes and the tomb


and loss, and suffering.  Is it too late for us

to start again, to try this time to find


a way to be as gentle and as kind

as look the couple Larkin could not trust,


lying movingly – since hand-in-hand – nonstop

for centuries, with neither one on top?


Published in Snakeskin 304, March 2023


Let’s fall in love –

in our mid-thirties

it’s not only

where the hurt is.


I won’t get smashed up

should you go

away for weekends –

we both know


no two people

can be completely


But twice weekly


we’ll dine together,

split the bill,

admire each other’s

wit.  We will


be splendid lovers,

slow, well-trained,

tactful, gracefully



You’ll keep your flat

and I’ll keep mine –

our bank accounts

shall not entwine.


We’ll make the whole thing

hard and bright.

We’ll call it love –

we may be right.


Original version published in Orbis 108/109, 1998

Included in anthology ‘101 Poems That Could Save Your Life;, ed Daisy Goodwin, HarperCollins 1999.

Included in anthology ‘Essential Poems (To Fall  In Love With)’, ed Daisy Goodwin, HarperCollins 2003 (in arrangement with BBC, and read on subsequent BBC by Samuel West.


When you think of it, if God exists, it’s odd –

if this is the only place in the universe

he set up to be able to converse

with conscious creatures (aka our awkward squad) –


if he focused his main effort on a tiny planet

in a minor galaxy; if his son were born

on the edge of an empire, in an unremarkable town

under-equipped to host the infinite –


if you need a microscope to spot his hand

at work in history, always at the edge of vision

where things get blurred, where the Good Samaritan


fulfils his humble, unreported mission

on an unpaved road in a distant, backward land,

not knowing the heavens hang on his heart’s decision . . .


Published HQ Poetry Magazine 58, March 2022


Afterwards, I’ll shake the hand

of total strangers in the street

as though they were my oldest friend

and as and when that friend I’ll meet


we’ll stroll across Green Park towards

Crown Passage’s Il Vicolo

to dip our bread in olive oil

and drink wine till our faces glow


and talk of this and maybe that

as if we had all day to kill

then we’ll argue who should pay, aware

we’ll agree at last to split the bill


and when we say goodbye, we’ll know

how rare and wonderful it was

to be together, even though

neither will say so. Why? Because 


why even hint the day might come

when public or private fresh disaster 

prevents we two from sitting there

to share a salad and a pasta?


Published in Snakeskin 276, September 2020. Also in The Spectator, 10 October 2020.

Reprinted in Robin Helweg-Larsen’s 20 December 2021 blog (

Poetry publishers


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

Get in touch with Tom here