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’.

Envoy

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

Helmand

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?

HappenStance Sampler

HappenStance Sampler

Prayer

Belief is not a word I’d ever use

(I’m not called Tom for nothing. Rule of thumb:

own eyes must see, own hands touch). But I’ve come

to understand prayer’s habit can produce

an inner space and strength.  Therefore this truce

(which if you’ve signed must be your minimum),

even if just a cop-out way to numb

my doubting mind, a call-it-quits excuse –

 

I’ll live as though I’m certain you exist;

I’ll keep on praying, whether or not you’re there,

not running down the long (you’d know it) list

of all I want; and put my questionnaire

aside, my aspiration for a final twist:

that these lines register somehow, somewhere.

Some Poems of Tom Vaughan

Yes Minister

We’d set it up for you to talk

to the woman who spoke English, who’d

opened a secret school for girls –   

as featured on the Taliban’s

list of Allah’s also-rans.

 

She thanked you for Great Britain’s part

in ending such a tyranny

and then described in moving terms

her undercover past, the fear

now tempered, since the West was there.

 

Don’t leave us this time – her final plea.

We won’t, you said. We’ll see it through.

She smiled, and you moved on, to charm

a minister or a general.

I didn’t think that I’d recall

 

that brief encounter ten years on

when you were plugging your memoirs

to a strategy forum in Whitehall.

Afghanistan, I heard you say,

would have to find an Afghan way.

 

I asked you whether you remembered

that trip; her words; your words; her smile.

You shrugged, and said in politics

sometimes it wasn’t possible

to finish all you’d hoped to do.

 

Well yes, it’s true each body bag 

is a weight we carry, you and I,

and bled votes for those who’d stay the course.

But what should I say, were I to meet

her once again, on that Kabul street?

First published in Snakeskin 248, February 2018

Lucky

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

I

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.

II

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

Brick by Brick

I took a brick and carried it

to where before there had been air,

and laid it carefully to fill

an emptiness I could repair.

 

     some bricks are made for houses

     some bricks are made for walls

     but none are made to mark the place

     where more than evening falls

 

That was the first – it’s now among

so many others I can’t be sure

which one it is, and why I built

here, not elsewhere.

 

     some bricks are made for houses

     some bricks are made for walls

     but none are made to mark the place

     which beckons but appals

 

Though it seems some spaces can’t be filled

however many bricks we pile

upon each other, and however

well we learn to shrug, and smile.

 

     some bricks are made for houses

     some bricks are made for walls

     but none are made to mark the place

     where all our building stalls


Published Poetry Review Salzburg No 37, Summer 2021

 

Promised Land

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

stops. Lovers

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

equally self-deceive

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

Biblical brain-teaser

 

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

Poetry publishers

LINKS

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

Get in touch with Tom here