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

Know-All

It’s strange – you think you know it all,

you’ve built a life which most would call

solid, secure; but one fine day

the props will simply fade away,

without a how or why. You’ll fall.

 

The weightless pleasure will appal,

the lack of safety net enthral –

the loose air’s utter disarray.

 

Or else, you’ll come up to a wall

too long to walk around, too tall

to scale.  Gateless – but in a way

thrillingly blank.  Stopped dead, you’ll say:

at last I know nothing at all.

It’s strange. You think you know.

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

Jerusalem

Despite its aplomb,

a nuclear bomb.

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

Glance

I met her eyes

and in that glance

a lifeline passed

it seemed a chance

step in advance

which could not last

 

though now I know

it was the first

tread in our dance

 

and in that trance

a lifetime passed

 

as in a glance

Published Dream Catcher 44, January 2022

Misquoting Auden

We must care for one another, or we die.

Easy to say. Harder to live. Here’s why –

 

some folk like power-play, thrive on contention

others resent being helped, as condescension

 

while most of those who claim they love mankind

to individual wants and needs are blind

 

and death will happen anyway – the fact

is it will always be a solo act.

 

Published in Snakeskin 298, August 2022

Forget-Me-Not

For my mother and all victims of Alzheimer’s

I’m like a book I know I’ve read

but stare at on the shelf in vain

oblivious how the intrigue ends

 

I gaze into the eyes of friends

but can’t recall my role or claim

the sagas our shared past once penned

 

the silence deep inside my head

is spreading like a slow inkstain              

my story should be there instead

 

to fill the book I’m sure I’ve read

but from re-opening refrain

for fear I would not find my name

 

the only place I’m me again

as darkness stretches out its reign          

to any chapters which remain

is in your love

          and in your pain

 

Published in Snakeskin 287, August 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

 

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

 

 

 

 

Awake

At our age, it’s more funerals than weddings –

both equally good for catching up on gossip

although now more usually about whose suffering

from what than who’s sleeping with whom – whose hip

joint is ceramic, or whose by-passed heart

pumps as well as the one they were gifted at the start.

Then the big C-word – the weird one-upmanship 

of comparing which particular body part

 

is caught in that disease’s pincer grip,

and calculating the chances of survival.

We note when memory begins to slip –

a first sign of Alzheimer’s? The removal

chapter by chapter of the storied self,

a death before a second death, by stealth.

Yet there’s always the occasional daredevil

boozing and smoking, and still in robust health . . .

 

But courage should mean a brutally frank appraisal:

life’s just an actuarial calculation

and there’s only one direction for our travel –

towards, surely, complete annihilation.

It’s strange that such farewells are called a wake

when friends go out forever, and daybreak

won’t bring them back, or herald their salvation,

or comfort those who loved them, for whose sake

 

we offer words we all pretend can ease the ache.

 

First published in The Spectator 1 April 2017

Also published in uncommon, an anthology by Clapham Original Poets, 2018

Desert Island Discs

I must be past my sell-by date:

I’m fifty, frazzled, overweight.

My mother glares at me to show

she’s not to blame; my wife groans no        

on those infrequent nights when I              

clumsily lonely, reach out and try

to make/wake love. Asleep, I snore.

My kids think I’m a dinosaur ‒

if up to them, I’m not an App              

they’d download. Just a bank to tap . . .

 

I’m running out of things to say

to friends, except pub chatter – they

wear the same puzzled, sober frown

however many pints they down.

We watch the football on the box,

the stars who earn more than Fort Knox ‒

my job’s a grind, my boss a jerk,

my pay’s a joke, I’ll have to work

until I’m seventy at least:

my pension pot has lost its yeast.

 

Is this what life is all about,

the rules the multitude can’t flout? –

frustration, failure, stuck ruts, time

speeding up as we decline,

the bitterness we try to hide, 

the sense of plenitude denied,  

our bodies failing part-by-part,

but in the ageing, aching heart

the troubled yearning to be free,

to say my prison walls aren’t me . . .

 

The souls on Desert Island Discs

seem to have bypassed all such risks

when they complacently review

their trek to join the Happy Few

chosen to choose the tunes they’d take

to their solo isle . . . 

             Unless it’s a fake –

what if always and everywhere, everyone’s

a castaway, and oceans

separate us from each other, full

of animal eating animal?

 

Dear God, if you exist, please teach

me patience on my private beach

where yes, I’ve got your Bible to

ponder eternity’s point of view,

but also Shakespeare, confirming how           

the hand-picked favourites you endow   

with stardom live more fully than      

those in the ranks who also ran –

even when his heroes’ fates are tragic

their pain, and poetry, are magic.     

Above all, I’d appreciate

as daily I deteriorate

 

sight of a sail, far out at sea

but on its way to rescue me . . .

 

Published Snakeskin 286, July 2021

All at Sea                                   

What does a German Bight               

in Sole or the Irish Sea?

Fitzroy’s lips are sealed

while Viking helms to lee.

 

No word from the absent Wight –

has he slipped away to Shannon?

Do they sound the depths in common?

Are they also trying to fathom

what does a German Bight

while the first or the final light

illuminates his squadron?

 

Take me to the Hebrides

past Rockall, east of Bailey

where I shall glimpse the far Fair Isle

and sheltered there, or maybe

in Fisher, Forth or Fastnet

I’ll meet someone who’ll say

what does a German Bight

to ease his appetite

in Malin or Biscay.

 

Southeast veering southwest

four or five and maybe six

sad and/or happy endings

could complicate the mix.

Be moderate and good

but if you cannot, tack

to where cyclonic Humber

paints the grey sky black

and ponder these two questions

as you gaze on that bleak sight –

is Dogger in the secret?

What does a German Bight?

 Published HQ 58, March 2022