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.
At the King David
If you retire you’re dead. That’s what Shimon
Peres said to Tony Blair, who’d just
flown in from China to Jerusalem.
How do I know? Because I was there.
How do you do it, Shimon? TB asked.
His face looked grey. Peres seemed to shine –
he was somewhere over eighty at the time.
Becoming President still lay ahead.
I looked out from the sixth floor at the view
of the Old City sparkling like a gun.
Blair was still PM. The two men smiled.
Old friends. Or at least old politicians.
Tony must have got the message – after all
since leaving Number 10 he hasn’t stopped.
So I can say I personally witnessed
the moment that particular penny dropped.
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.
Some Poems of Tom Vaughan
More or Less
I’m more or less me, and for most of the time
I’m mainly and mostly more more than less fine
but I’m out of my head about one day in nine
I’m sound as a bell for the bulk of the week
and can look in the eye most people I meet
but one day in seven I’m knocked off my feet
largely each month I don’t merely survive
I’m thrillingly, fillingly, glad I’m alive
but I wish I were dead about one day in five
much of the time I’m delighted to be
the person I am and the person you see
but I want to be you about one day in three
yes more or less deeply I don’t doubt I’m someone
most people would cherish and no-one would shun
but I can’t stand myself about one day in one
Published in Dream Catcher 42
Neither was musical, so why did they pay
for all those weekly, costly, piano lessons?
I wasn’t interested – nor were my sisters.
The teacher knew at once we had no gift.
My father’s hearing had been blown away
by Navy gunfire. My mother didn’t listen
to concerts on the battered old transistor
while she did the ironing. They had to be spendthrift –
money was tight. But, looking back, I wonder
if part of what they wanted was for us to learn
that other language, not just the words they knew
couldn’t even catch the plainsong they’d discovered
in the regulated life we’d later spurn –
deaf to what war, and death, taught them to value.
Published in Snakeskin 280, January 2021
Her eyes are full of tears while he
tries to explain why it doesn’t work,
when what he means is he’s plain bored
and that the sex is not enough.
She knows he’s lying – that he wants to be
with someone else, and that in a week
if they should meet, she’d be ignored.
But it was the first time she’d been in love.
What she cannot know as yet is how
the years will pass, and she’ll look back
amazed he meant so much, but still
conscious that self-deceit allowed
a sense of being alive she’s lacked
since the real world moved in for the kill.
Published in Snakeskin 280, January 2021
Kestrel, March 2020
Some days it seems enough to learn
the French names of the birds
I can see from my study window
or when we walk along the beach:
goéland; chevalier; grand cormoran;
bécasseau; tournepierre à collier;
and yesterday a faucon crécerelle
unmoving in the wind which stirred
the trees which mark the line
between our garden and the sand.
That’s why, you said, they say it flies
en Saint-Esprit . . .
We may be alone here for weeks.
If so, I’ll keep a watch
hoping he’ll come again
as though he’d bring a blessing
in his train.
Published in Snakeskin 271, April 2020
Once you’re on the train
nothing to do but relax –
somebody else in charge
and no way back.
You settle with a book
or close your eyes, to sleep
or watch the landscape slip
into the past. You hope
you’ll arrive more or less on time
but rocked in the easy motion
imagine you won’t get off
until that further station
with the sunlit, tight-knit town
which was always your real home
which you’ll feel is where you’re from
which is waiting for you to come
one day, perhaps today
one day, perhaps tomorrow
one day, if not today
one day, if not tomorrow
Published in The Haiku Quarterly 54, November 2020
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?
First published in Snakeskin 276, September 2020. Also published in The Spectator of 10 October 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
A Hint of Heaven
What do people do in heaven?
Are there seven
days a week – and
in that strange land
would you be you, would I be me?
Would we be free
to share unplanned
a room together? Is it dull –
an endless lull
where bored saints stand,
I stumbled on what’s holy, here,
with you. No prayer
solves the contrast
between that past
and what remains as we grow old.
Were we fool’s gold?
What cannot last
leaves us aghast –
but leaving paradise, which breaks
the heart, yet wakes
each lone outcast
to love’s broadcast.
First published in Originally of Clapham anthology, 2014
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