Tic tacs at the track

They stood out beaconed on their boxes.
I could only see them from the shoulder up:
White gloves weaving those magic odds
out the eartop of the head, or on the nose.

Punters would follow their semaphore to see
an Up-the-arm, an Ear’ole, or a Major Stevens
flying overhead. Dad joked they were sending
messages to the deaf. The odd time a Double Carpet

flew past the line by a short head, the bookies
cracked a smile, plus the punter whose pin
had pricked the right spot for once. The serious
men, long coated with cigars in hand, strode
up with bags of sand to take on a short one

if it wasn’t odds on it’d be straight up,
shoulder maybe, a bottle max. I’d watch them
walk back like cons, pick out their bins and scan
the track like Churchill overseeing the troops.

My old man had less money but no less sense.
He often lost me amongst the legs when putting
on his bet, laying a sky diver or cock and hen – lowest
he took was top-of-the-headcarpet, or Burlington Bertie,

up to a cockle. If a top jockey was on a macaroni
he’d drop a couple on. Each way he wasn’t going to win
enough for a long coat. He always tried to leave though
with a cigar, blowing smoke all the way home.

by Peter Raynard

News from the Centre: we have a number of exciting poetry readings coming up over the next couple of months, including a reading by this week’s poet, Peter Raynard, who will be with Richard Skinner tomorrow (3 May) at the Society Café in Oxford from 7pm. All are welcome! Tickets (£4) are available here or on the door. For more details, visit our website.

We will also be hosting (as part of the Think Human Festival): Kei Miller on 22 May; Sinéad Morrissey on 23 May; and Clare Pollard on 24 May. We’re also helping to organize Stanza and Stand-Up on 25 May where poetry competes with comedy and the audience decides who wins! Don’t miss these exciting events! You can book tickets here

Next week, join psychoanalyst and critic Adam Phillips at Keble College for the latest in his seminar series entitled ‘The Poet’s Essay’. The seminar takes place on Wednesday 9th May at 4.30pm in the Pusey Room at Keble, and you can find full details here.  

And if you haven’t yet seen copies of our ignitionpress pamphlets, including work by Lily Blacksell, Patrick James Errington, and Mary Jean Chan (whose pamphlet A Hurry of English is the Poetry Book Society’s Summer Choice), visit our website. There you can find sample poems as well as audio and video of the poets reading from their work.

‘Tic tacs at the track’ is copyright © Peter Raynard, 2018. It is reprinted from Precarious (Smokestack Books, 2018) by permission of  Smokestack Books. An earlier version of the poem was published in the Morning Star in February 2015.

Notes from Smokestack Books:

Peter Raynard’s debut collection Precarious takes questions of masculinity, class, mental health and work head on; issues that many people, especially men and boys, find difficult to address. Rosa Luxemburg, Orgreave, 11-plus failures, tic-tac men, a priest from central casting and a man who only eats sandwiches – it’s a book about precarious times, hard lessons and fragile lives, a defiant celebration of British working-class life and the people ‘who make the wheels go round’, provocative, funny, poignant and bloody angry.

Peter Raynard is the editor of Proletarian Poetry: poems of working class lives. His debut collection, Precarious, was published by Smokestack Books in April 2018. He has also completed a poetic coupling of The Communist Manifesto, to be published by Culture Matters in May 2018.

Smokestack is an independent publisher of radical and unconventional poetry run by Andy Croft. Smokestack aims to keep open a space for what is left of the English radical poetic tradition in the twenty-first century. Smokestack champions poets who are unfashionable, radical, left-field and working a long way from the metropolitan centres of cultural authority. Smokestack is interested in the World as well as the Word; believes that poetry is a part of and not apart from society; argues that if poetry does not belong to everyone it is not poetry. Smokestack’s list includes books by John Berger, Michael Rosen, Katrina Porteous, Ian McMillan, Steve Ely, Bertolt Brecht (Germany), Gustavo Pereira (Venezuela), Heinrich Heine (Germany), Andras Mezei (Hungary), Yiannis Ritsos (Greece) and Victor Jara (Chile). You can find Smokestack on Facebook and on Twitter.

Copyright information: please note that the copyrights of all the poems displayed on the website and sent out on the mailing list are held by the respective authors, translators or estates, and no work should be reproduced without first gaining permission from the individual publishers.