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.

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

The Mower

I cut the grass again today.

It took three hours, but now I know

that man was made his lawn to mow.


It’s smooth enough to play croquet.

The shorn blades smell of long ago.

I cut the grass again today.


I’m basking in the afterglow.

I sit and sip a beer, although

under my feet it starts to grow.


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.

Tom Vaughn Envoy

The Empty Quarter

(Ar Rub Al Khali, Saudi Arabia)


Because there’s no one there, some dream

of crossing it. Perhaps they think

the desert’s question marks will help

them find themselves, or even test

if they’re the right stuff. For the rest


it’s simply somewhere on the map

where madmen go – no showers, no loos,

no shopping malls or TV shows.

Why slog across a waste of sand

as though it were the Promised Land?


For me, what counts is hope – that soon,

in this dry here and now, we’ll both

scent moisture in the air, and start

a journey too long put aside,

on which, at last as one, we’ll ride.

Poetry publishers


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

Get in touch with Tom here

Some Poems of Tom Vaughan

L’Esprit de l’Escalier

We argue this, we argue that,

we turn and walk away

and afterwards we both regret

the words we failed to say


the arguments which spring to mind

in futile retrospect

the killer points which would have made

definitive impact –


though could it be, alone in Hell,

and conscious why we burn

we’ll kick ourselves we didn’t pause

upon the steps, and turn


back to one another, then

once more face-to-face

forgive the said and the unsaid

and silently embrace?

Published in Snakeskin 292, January 2022

Two of Us

You won’t give up – ‘which song do you like best?’

Your man’s McCartney – Get Back, Hey Jude.  Me –

I’m still hooked on the startling energy

of the early years, till Rubber Soul, the rest


(it’s true, a disappointment then suppressed . . .)

lacking that pastless spontaneity

which meant being young, and seeming to break free

of all the grey, dead rules.  I was obsessed,


buying every disc the moment it came out,

listening to it time and time again,

adding it to the story – while for you


right from the start there’s been both Twist and Shout

and Two of Us, the loss of Penny Lane

already in Paul’s voice on Love Me Do.

Published in HQ Poetry Magazine Number 57, 2021

English Lesson

Good morning

    Good morning

How are you?

    I’m well, thanks –                    

   and you, how are you?       

I’m well too –

my mind blanks


but why try to teach

the gaps in-between

the words on the page

which parade what they mean?


Good evening

    Good evening

How are you?

This I know:

best to say 

    very well

and to smile like a pro.


Published in Snakeskin 292, January 202

Notes from the Underground

The first time someone offered me a seat

on the Underground, it was a Hoodie who

if I’d met him on a darkened, empty street

I’d have crossed to the other side as he came into view,

worrying about being mugged. And number two


happened today, when a young punk female face –

plus studs – looked up when I got on, and smiled.

I couldn’t think why, till she half-rose from her place.

Clumsily, I said no. Had she been my child

I’d have wondered what I’d done wrong, that she’d so defiled


her fresh good looks. But it isn’t that which sticks,

or the jolt of suddenly seeing myself in their

green eyes, or the body blow to my politics

(Spectator preconceptions . . .). It’s wondering where

such acts are catalogued, and if they share


the folder in the Cloud once labelled Prayer.


Published in Poetry Salzburg Review, Spring 2015, under title ‘Underground’.



Time to go wild

to take a bottle of whisky on the beach

at midnight


to stay until I’ve cracked

the signals from the fishing boats 

the lights far out at sea


winking a code

I’ve been too sober 

to understand

Published in HQ Poetry Magazine Number 57, 2021


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


Men, when freshly shaved and smooth,

stroke their cheeks as though to say

others should touch them too, to feel

a newborn’s softness. Every day


the beardless have another chance –

what their mothers knew, themselves to know: 

the wonder of such pristine flesh,

like virgin, unfootprinted snow.


Some go electric – Philips, Braun.

I need the cold edge of the blade,

the nicks, the blood, but then the sense

of innocence, not yet mislaid.

First published in Dream Catcher 33, July 2016

Maiden Aunts

When I grew up

the world was full

of maiden aunts –


all brave old birds

(my mother’s phrase).

Mine lived in Plymouth,

one in France:


Gladys, Mildred,

Eugenie –

names from the Nineteenth



Our visits seemed

to make them happy –

they’d bake sponge cake

for us, for tea.


Kind smiles disguising

iron willpower.

Grandfather clocks

chimed on the hour.


Sometimes they mentioned

men who’d died

during the war.

They never cried.


Their houses shone,

polished each day

as though the past

were on display.  


I remember the sweet

old woman’s smell

when we were taken

to say farewell –


heaven, I think,

must have a mansion

where maiden aunts

on meagre pensions


dine on left-

overs from luncheon.

Published in Snakeskin 292, January 2022