Tom Sastry

Tom Sastry

One of the 2016 Laureate's Choice poets, chosen by Carol Ann Duffy


Tom Sastry was born in 1974. He is a second generation Original. His mother is Originally English and his father Originally Indian. He grew up in Buckinghamshire and has lived in Bristol since 1999. He thinks that not belonging is more interesting than belonging. He has spent most of his life in bedrooms, classrooms and offices. He enjoys having to deny that he is an anarchist. Complicity is his first pamphlet.



'Tom Sastry navigates the mysterious everyday in this honest and often funny collection, making friendships and love affairs new and strange.' – Carol Ann Duffy



No-one knows where the clowns went.

Perhaps they found their own country.

Perhaps they were frightened.


Look –


there’s a boy in Weston-Super-Mare

who says he saw, lined up on the mud at low tide

small piles of braces, red wigs

bellied pantaloons and oversized shoes.


The great marquees of England stand empty

and somewhere

a melancholy lion licks an abandoned red nose

whilst children fall over the guy ropes

with look-at-me smiles.


The politicians are explaining.

If they have left says the PM,

it was their choice.

I myself am the son of clowns.

We just wanted to disperse them

to prevent them from clustering together

in ghettoes.


It’s not just him.

No-one says they feel guilty. There’s just this


nostalgia. There are massive downloads

of classic bike horn and ukulele tunes.

New museums are planned.

The Commission on Nightmares

has proposed a new terror of badgers

but we all know it won’t be the same.


We do our best to remember. 

Last night, a group of us

sniffed trick roses on the bandstand

and wiped our dripping faces

smudging our greasepaint smiles



How did you start writing?

I wrote songs for many years. It was a kind of alibi for not doing anything very interesting with my life. I went to open mic events where I discovered – to my immense disappointment and shock -  that I was not the only man in early middle age with an acoustic guitar.

Sometime around 2011, these events began to include poets. The poets were mostly younger, whiter and more dreadlocked than me. They were very worried about climate change, which was reassuring. Quite a few seemed to have an Oedipal relationship with the planet herself.

I began writing poems and performing them. At that precise moment I noticed the good poets. Without exception, these were the ones the ones whose poems were about things that I had never thought to write about. And I realized that the most brilliant and life-enhancing trick that good writers learn is the trick of noticing that something has happened which could be the start a poem.

I started watching the world in a different way.

That was incredibly good for me, if not, initially, for my writing. It was a difficult time in my life and – basically by accident – I discovered the discipline of noticing things.

I was born in Buckinghamshire. My father is from the South of India and my mother is from North London. I have one brother. I live with my partner and, for some of the time,with my daughter. I work full-time. I am 42 years old. 

I attended a state grammar school although I do not support selection. I studied modern history at Oxford although I have no affinity with high-achieving people and felt horrifically out of place as a result. I also have a master in social research methods although I have never worked in social research. So my education is both privileged and a colossal misapplication of resources. My degree certificates have definitely helped me.


Where do you mostly write? What do you do instead of writing?


I don’t set aside time to write. I write in scraps of time – at lunchtime at work; in a notebook on the bus; whenever I have time alone at home. I write, most of all, when I have the energy to write.

For me, the discipline of writing is to do with filling my pockets with things which capture my attention. So long as I succeed in doing that, the poems follow.

I may become a more disciplined writer at some stage. If I do, I am sure that I will become a different writer. That in itself is something to look forward to.


A paragraph about one of your collections – how you put it together, some background about one of the poems, how you came to write or revise it?  

This is my first collection. Most of the poems were written within a few months of each other in 2014 and chosen because they were my favourites at the point the selection was made.

I would love to plan and execute a really ambitious project – to create genuinely coherent groups of poems – poems which, taken together describe a person or a setting. But I think that if, as I did, you arrive at the point of publication with what is essentially a collection of diverse poems which happen to be the best you have to offer, it is best to own up to it. I’m not convinced that identifying a theme at that stage is going to add much.

The title ‘Complicity’ was chosen because it was the one title which could have served as the title of a couple of the other poems in the group (the others which might have been called ‘Complicity’ are Goldilocks and Jiggery Boomtish).


What are you currently working on?

More poems!

Titles by this author


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