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The Kia ora coo-ee : the magazine for the ANZACS in the Middle East, 1918

Poets in Khaki

Poets in Khaki.

Australia has not produced a great poet; nor has New Zealand; but both countries are prolific in verse writers. The lure of rhyme is potent in the Dominions. Even when the poets become soldiers, they remain faithful to the Muse. For every bit of prose sent to the "Kia Ora Coo-ee," we receive at least two poems. Some are by craftsmen to whom the music of rhymed words is more than the sweetest human voice; others are rough-hewn pieces from the quarry of verse; nearly all are touched with sincerity, except when they are frankly doggerel. Out of the budget each month it is possible to choose a sheaf of good poems, such as any journal would be glad to print. Desert campaigning, with all its hardships, cannot dry up the well of fancy that lies deep in each poet's mind; nor can it dull the edge of his style. Poets are born in the Desert; many a man, who never wrote a couplet before he donned khaki, is now chasing rhymes o' nights by the dim light of a candle in his bivvy. It is a hobby with power to please the most unlikely men. A strong current of sentiment flows through much of this soldier verse; but much of it is humorous. Many aspiring young bards are careless of technique; they never worry about the number of feet in a line, or the Jilt of words; they rhyme with delightful inconsequence, or let rhyme go hang. Others are more painstaking, and produce labored verse, which lacks both music and glamour. Then there is a small company of those who were touched by the magic wand in their cradles, and only rhyme because they must. Their work is poetry. Try it by the touchstone of single lines, and it proves to be silver, or, sometimes, gold: "We climbed where the crags weave sombre shades," "Re-echoes with some Arab serenade," "Tossed leaves on the white, enchanting star," "From out Beth Dagon's shade her svelte form swayed," "And the hill was red with poppies in the Springtime after rain," " He many follow the flight of the wheeling kite in the blue Egyptian sky." These, of course, are selected lines; but it would be easy to quote scores of others as good from the pages of our Magazine. They all betray the craftsman. Compare them with a few lines by prentice bards: "Our horses—gallant creatures-went steady down the road," "When on Gallipoli we proved our breeding, and again on Desert sands," "I have safely crossed the wide ocean," "The flag we bear is the Southern Cross, upheld by Australia's sons." There is no music in these lines; and verse without music is worse than meat without salt. But the fact remains, that hundreds of Anzacs are beating out rhymes in spare time, and many of them never gave poetry a thought, before they became soldiers. We are not "sentimental blokes"; but we do not lack sentiment, and the desire to express poetically "emotions born in tranquillity,"or otherwise, is natural enough. It is good, too, to remember that some of the finest Australian war poetry has appeared in the "Kia Ora Coo-ee"; and much more will be published. Future anthologists will cull many poems from our pages. Perchance we shall have the honour of discovering a new poet, who will gain a place on Parnassus beside Henry Kendall. An "Oxford Book of Australasian Verse" has just been published, in London, and we shall be surprised if it does not contain verses by some "K.O.C." poets.