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

Last Page

We choose what gives us meaning. I

chose you.  That’s why

when people ask

me to unmask

and tell them if I’m ‘happy’, they

head off astray:

that’s not the glue.

But what I knew –

in the first minute, when we met

(part pledge, part threat) –

was that our text

defines, connects.


Of course, it’s only when you turn

the last page, learn

its backward view,

say farewell too,

that you can fully understand

an author’s plan.

So bugger books

and how we’ll look

to hooked, impatient readers who

will hurry through

to reach the end.

Leave that unpenned.


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

Are You An English Gentleman?

Are you an English gentleman

who always sees things through?

Are you an English gentleman

regular and true?

Are you an English gentleman

whose life of quiet despair

seen from the outside, looks to be

reliably square?

Are you part of the landscape

with a firm handshake,

understated savoir-faire?

Are you an English gentleman

avoiding the public glare?


Are you an English gentleman

unflappable under fire?

Annoyingly self-possessed,

genetically a squire?

Are you an English gentleman

never, never late?

Are you an English gentleman

completely out of date?

Are you an English gentleman

unable to cope

with foreign parts and feminists –

have you become a joke?

Politically incorrect

an existential retrospect

a species under serious threat –

are you an English gentleman

bewildered but bespoke?


Are you an English gentleman

although there’s no such thing?

Are you an English gentleman

whose timer has gone ping?

Are you an English gentleman?

If so, hang on old chap –

let’s dine out at my club tonight

and talk a load of crap.

Poetry publishers


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

Get in touch with Tom here

Some Poems of Tom Vaughan


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


When you think of it, if God exists, it’s odd –

if this is the only place in the universe

he set up to be able to converse

with conscious creatures (aka our awkward squad) –


if he focused his main effort on a tiny planet

in a minor galaxy; if his son were born

on the edge of an empire, in an unremarkable town

under-equipped to host the infinite –


if you need a microscope to spot his hand

at work in history, always at the edge of vision

where things get blurred, where the Good Samaritan


fulfils his humble, unreported mission

on an unpaved road in a distant, backward land,

not knowing the heavens hang on his heart’s decision . . .

Published HQ Poetry Magazine 58, March 2022

 La Croix du Requer, Clis

On one side, Christ already

rigid, cold, alone,

while on the other, Mary holds

a baby in her arms –


the years between are nowhere

and were only written down

much later, by those yearning

that darkness could be dawn –


but stone expresses clearly

how death remains distinct,

how at that final moment

all meaning was a blank –


and yet, I often pause here

on my weekly cycle ride

not from any sense of pilgrimage

or because it’s in my guide


but to think of the man who carved it

and generations since

imagining Jerusalem

in the grey granite of France.


Published in Snakeskin 295, April 2022

Notes from the Underground

The first time someone offered me a seat

on the Underground, it was a Hoodie who

if I’d met him on a darkened, empty street

I’d have crossed to the other side as he came into view,

worrying about being mugged. And number two


happened today, when a young punk female face –

plus studs – looked up when I got on, and smiled.

I couldn’t think why, till she half-rose from her place.

Clumsily, I said no. Had she been my child

I’d have wondered what I’d done wrong, that she’d so defiled


her fresh good looks. But it isn’t that which sticks,

or the jolt of suddenly seeing myself in their

green eyes, or the body blow to my politics

(Spectator preconceptions . . .). It’s wondering where

such acts are catalogued, and if they share


the folder in the Cloud once labelled Prayer.


Published in Poetry Salzburg Review, Spring 2015, under title ‘Underground’.



Time to go wild

to take a bottle of whisky on the beach

at midnight


to stay until I’ve cracked

the signals from the fishing boats 

the lights far out at sea


winking a code

I’ve been too sober 

to understand

Published in HQ Poetry Magazine Number 57, 2021


I stopped believing many years ago

even in non-belief, so why sit here

this winter morning, listening

to Sunday Worship on the radio

from St Martin-in-the-Fields? And to a choir

not so much singing as inheriting


the chanted fables generations pass

each to the next, as though they were handrails

into the future and could guide

us through a lifetime in which nothing lasts

except their solace – a thought which both appals

and fascinates, for what if such well-tried


harmonies say something tuned and true

about the way we can atone with age,

how we should be with one another,

how I both could and should have been with you,

and could still be even at this settled stage

of our long discord? What if this chance encounter


is not mere chance, but one of those rare moments

which offer insight into how the world

is more than all we see or hear

or touch – some inner, outer, spiritual endowment,

an unexpected cadence overheard,

which everyone, and everywhere, could share?


So let the old words comfort if they can –

they’ve done good service down the troubled years

helping us to come to terms

with what usually seems not just absurd, unplanned,

but a void our shocked imagination fears

and that unsung language only silence learns.


Published in The Spectator, 15 April 2017


Men, when freshly shaved and smooth,

stroke their cheeks as though to say

others should touch them too, to feel

a newborn’s softness. Every day


the beardless have another chance –

what their mothers knew, themselves to know: 

the wonder of such pristine flesh,

like virgin, unfootprinted snow.


Some go electric – Philips, Braun.

I need the cold edge of the blade,

the nicks, the blood, but then the sense

of innocence, not yet mislaid.

First published in Dream Catcher 33, July 2016

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