TOM VAUGHAN inspiration

About the poet

Tom Vaughan is a former British diplomat. His novel No Second Prize, based on his experience in post-colonial Zimbabwe, was published by Andre Deutsch in 1993.

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’.

Tom’s poems have been published in several magazines, newspapers 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). Beltway Blues, from Tom’s 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

You can find a longish ‘anti-poem’ by Tom, entitled Your Views Matter to Us, in the May 2024 edition of the poetry webzine Snakeskin ( Please feel free to express your views!

Some Poems of Tom Vaughan


Three poppies in the garden

are our sparse Passchendaele

while cuckoos chant this year’s

pre-nest assault Sieg Heil!       


The lambs upon the hillside

will shortly grace our plates

while there are even insects

which, coupling, eat their mates.


Green leaves upon old branches

flutter in the breeze

like flags waved by the crowds

as the troopships leave.


And we’re all fooled as Spring

performs its super-slick

hope-inspiring, huge,

mindless, ruthless trick –


as though the reborn world

were on a brand-new course

and not simply repeating

its annual holocaust.

Published in Snakeskin 316, April 2024


My shoelaces are in a knot –

I’m tired, and want to be in bed

but must sit here and tug instead.

Is this a skill my hands forgot?

My shoelaces are in a knot.


I should be wearing Chelsea boots

or Moccasins – or go barefoot

about the world.  But now I’ve put

down deep and complicated roots.

I should be wearing Chelsea boots.


To take a knife and cut right through

would save me time, and I’d soon be

sleeping beside you, tangle-free.

But it’s too late for me, or you,

to take a knife and cut right through.


Things fall apart, or so they say.

Well, not these laces – they’re entwined

in a compact double-bind.

How long until they just decay?

Things fall apart. Or so they say.

Published in The Haiku Quarterly 41


Even my pubic hair’s gone grey.

Tufts bristle from my ears and nose.

Why this bald patch on top? God knows . . .


If life were something lived in play

I’d laugh at what the mirror shows:

a second chin, a stoop, the way


I pull my stomach in to close 

the gap with when I could compose

myself as poetry, not prose.

First published in Snakeskin 232, September 2016


The phone call came during the meeting.

His brother dead – a suicide.

They hadn’t spoken for five years.

A wife, a daughter, left. I tried


to offer comfort, awkwardly asking

if I could help in any way.

I sensed a complex, buried shame –

paths separated, day by day,


and now the possibility

of reconciling gone for good,

a bitter truth which I could see

he had all too clearly understood.


They say that time can twist in loops:

but not for him – he’ll have to live

with this bleak censure in his past,

perhaps unable to forgive


himself for failures, self-excused

or put down as the other’s fault;

to struggle to prevent the future

being hijacked by this moment, spoilt


by a retrospect with a new meaning

insisting on sorrow, silence, guilt,

that always and everywhere our lives

on lies, and then on loss, are built.

First published in HQ Poetry Magazine, Number 49



From your quietness I know that for you too

they summon up memories which question 

our procedures now –


though if a friend were here, and took

a photograph of us bending

in unison over our mingled pasts,


lean years from now that image might discover

this easy happiness we touch,

but did not then, not knowing that we lived it.

Original version published in Smiths Knoll 13, 1996


His ship went down, but he survived

and made it to Athens, where he later joked

in stripping him of his worldly goods

Fortune had played a masterstroke . . .


Hallelujah for him!  But what about

all those who drowned when his bark broke?

You can’t say Fortune smiled on them:

for one to wake must many croak?

Published in Light, Winter/Spring 24 issue



The Wall

They clean the prayers out twice a year

and bury them in bags upon

the Mount of Olives, where the tombs

maintain their silent lexicon


and then in cracks and crevices

the living cram another batch

counting on God to have the time

their wishes with his will to match.


These deadpan stones are what remains

of the home-from-home once offered him

and maybe they’re still dawn-patrolled

by cherubim and seraphim


but for me, the message from the past

is however endlessly we yearn

doesn’t even mean our hearts are read 

by here/now lovers – we soon learn


the wall between us is as stern.

First published in Snakeskin 253, August/September 2018

Crime Scene

I left a window open

all day, but no one came

to steal my laptop or my books,

my passport or my name.


Nothing has moved. Nothing has changed,

the flat looks just the same

as when I walked out this morning –

no tampering with the shame


of my unmade bed, my un-ironed shirts,

the plate-piled kitchen sink,

your farewell letter on my desk

listing my faults. I think


when I go to work tomorrow

I’ll play a bolder game –

take the front door off its hinges.

Fuck the insurance claim.


First published in ‘The Haiku Quarterly’.

Poetry publishers


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

Get in touch with Tom here