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.

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

Via Dolorosa

The light insists

there’s something here

the guidebooks can’t

explain, and then

 

illuminates 

the stones’ idea

that maybe nothing

happened but

 

their task’s to bear

what ends in prayer

or protest that

the certainty

 

of suffering

is in the end

all we can share.

Poetry publishers

LINKS

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

Get in touch with Tom here

Some Poems of Tom Vaughan

Midnight Mass in the Pyrenees

The village choir sings out of tune,

the ancient curé’s sermon

the one he must use every year

aimed at the awkward children

 

whose parents push them to the front

to crowd around the crèche

where one of them’s now tasked to put

the infant who’d unleash

 

the centuries in which these stones

would house the hopes and fears

of generations who’d accept

his legacy’s frontiers

 

as they’d accept this valley as

an all-containing world

in which the story of their lives

would day-by-day unfurl.

 

Now most of us are only here

for the skiing – if we believe

in anything, it’s not the tale

which goes with Christmas Eve

 

and yet, we’ve felt the need to come

where a thousand years of prayer

gave meaning to the spans of those

whose limits we compare

 

to our wider, deeper knowledge of

every question mark

which leaves us both enlightened and

forever in the dark

 

but wondering for a few hours if

tonight’s simplicity

has somehow blessed us, even in

our proud uncertainty.

Published in Snakeskin 257, January 2019

Happiness

It’s easy to forget they’d fought a war:

his father drowned, half-brother bayoneted;

her kilted sibling captured at Dunkirk,

locked up for five long years. But yes they met

 

in uniform, lost half their friends, before

the normal world re-started when they wed:

mortgage; children; grinding office work –

all I suppose they wanted when they set

 

out as a couple.  We must have been a shock:

busting their rulebook; scornful of sacrifice;

mocking their past and their belief in ‘progress’;

 

too young, too smashed, too angry to unlock

their silence, or to understand the price

they’d paid for what they’d still call happiness.

 

First published in Dream Catcher 33, July 2016

Fire

In front of the fire after dinner

we talk of the friends who have died

not saying, but of course thinking,

why them, but not us, when we’ve lied

 

and we’ve failed and betrayed and we’ve squandered

just as much as the shadows we mourn

while we sit by the fire in the winter

while the fire keeps the two of us warm.

 

Maybe when we wake a few embers

will still glow in the ashen grate

and we’ll kindle new flames till the evening

the darkness to illustrate.

 

Published Snakeskin 302, December 2022

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

 

USP

If everybody has

a USP, what’s mine?

Is non-possession of a talent

a crime?

 

If I’m part of the crowd predestined to be

born with no great gift

is there a particular reason for

Fate’s thrift? –

 

since otherwise no one would rise   

above a bland baseline       

and no lacklustre horde would backdrop the stars       

who shine . . . 

 

Still there ought to be a prize

for the necessary many

whose qualities are minimal

if any

 

but who plod on as losers so

the few can upwards pop

relying on the rest of us 

to flop –

 

so will they one day condescend

to look us in the face

and thank us for their happy state

of grace?

 

Published Lighten Up Online 59, September 2022

 

 

 

 

Proposal

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

all-sufficient.

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

unrestrained.

 

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.

Pear-Shaped

‘I find that the earth is not as round as it is described, but 

it is shaped like a pear . . .’ – Christopher Columbus

 

Of course, since he thought India was where

they’d landed, so much sooner than his sums

suggested that they should.  I bet his chums

would have been happy had the world been square:

any firm ground the answer to their prayer –

after long weeks at sea, the flat earth comes

to feel as good as mythical kingdoms.

Me and my crew, however, are up to here

 

with startled landfalls: our jetlagged eyes have seen

whole towns destroyed, men killed and women raped –

mere footage for the voyeur’s TV screen.

We know how horror works: we’ve got it taped . . .

Not that we laugh at him for being green:

his insight was spot on – the world’s pear-shaped.

 

‘. . .like a pear, with a woman’s nipple in one place, 

and this projecting part is highest and nearest heaven.’

 

But that bit’s something else – just think of it,

the seven day world in its pneumatic bliss!

Not something that you’ll find in Genesis . . .

Creation’s high point: one enormous tit,

almost as tall as heaven, a major hit

with passing Martians, evidence that His

artistic bent was sui generis –

sublime erotic flair; a wicked wit.

 

O Mother Earth, bend down and succour me.

I’ve lived too long with sorrow and with pain.

Fold me in your warm arms and let me be

young, and believing, innocent, again.

Then I’ll set sail, as though I could be free

one day, unchanged, to turn back home, to Spain.

 

Published in The Haiku Quarterly 41

Afterwards

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 (https://www.goodreads.com/author/show/5769613.Robin_Helweg_Larsen/blog)