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

Appropriate

Appropriate’s a lovely word –

it doesn’t mean a thing.

So useful when we need a text

appropriately thin.

 

Appropriate measures may be used . . .

appropriate forces sent.

Appropriately you’ll never know

exactly what we meant

 

when unforeseen – of course – events

raise the question why

inappropriately innocent people

die.

HappenStance Sampler

HappenStance Sampler

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.

Some Poems of Tom Vaughan

Kinneret

We sat beside the water’s edge

while evening settled on the lake

each glimpsing how it could inspire      

a thirst no drink could ever slake –

 

no man-made harp could ever catch

the silent music in that peace

which soothed us like a pledge that some  

deep harmony would never cease –

 

but then a voice behind us called

proposing beers, and we turned back

towards the guest house, where we’d dine

and talk, and joke, and kiss, and pack –

 

and though I still remember all

we felt it meant for me and you,      

what’s also lasted through the years

and what registered as just as true    

 

is the vision the next morning when

driving down to Tel Aviv:

young soldiers hitch-hiking; the killing

fields too many had believed

 

belonged to them – in the fierce sun          

the Horns of Hattin, the Golan Heights,

Megiddo . . .  How could we connect

such history with the previous night’s

 

unheralded, unmerited

sense of a sudden offering,

of a one-off, privileged insight

into the carefree heart of things?    

We’ve stumbled since, and when I read

the news about the Promised Land      

I note that nothing’s solved – but were

we lucky to halt there, hand-in-hand

 

those few stunned hours, if that’s as close

as human beings can ever be;

when it seemed time paused and blessed us both

beside the Sea of Galilee?

Note

The word Kinneret is derived from the Hebrew word for harp, which the shape of the lake resembles.

Published Snakeskin 289, October 2021

Among Sixth-Formers

St Andrew’s RC Secondary School, Glasgow

 They sit there, eager, young and bright,

two wanting to be teachers, one

a doctor, while the fourth describes

his goal to be a journalist.

At their age, I was stoned or pissed –

 

today I’m just a tie and suit

who in their pert eyes must appear

a bland old bore, whose accent means

he’s (a) English and (b) can’t know

the pressures they’ve defied, but though

 

it was madness to believe we might

discover a common language or

an interpreter able to translate

with empathetic clarity

me to them and them to me

 

yet how could I fail to be inspired

by finding hope here, amidst their grey

resentful home estate which wants

its offspring back, whose rules they flout 

even by dreaming of breaking out

 

to solid, legal, long careers,

to marriages which last, to kids

who’ll laugh at them for being so straight,

to lives unlocked from drugs and crime –

 

to safer ways to serve their time,

the guilt of such a thought being mine.

 

First published in Snakeskin 247, January 2018

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.

Published in Dream Catcher 33, July 2016

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

Odysseus

What if the whole epic

has tongue tucked in cheek?

We’ve only his word . . .

Was there really a freak

 

man-eating Cyclops

with only one eye,

or a nympho Calypso

saying live and let die

 

or did he just need

a good story to tell

to prevent Penelope

giving him hell?

 

The guy after all

was known for his cunning 

eg his plot

to spring Helen the stunning.

 

Maybe. But the sirens?

Do they sing for you too?

Or – like him? – do you wish

at least that bit were true?

 

Published in Lighten Up Online Issue 55, September 2021

Poetry publishers

LINKS

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

Get in touch with Tom here