Bright Day for Maine poetics

You will not find Holman F. Day in the Oxford Companion to American Literaturem . I haven't looked in all the reference books where Holman Day should be found, but have scouted him enough to learn the Poet Laureate of the State of Maine has been ignored, and all but forgotten. And he shouldn't be. This makes it important that our Maine public TV, Channel 12, recently devoted an hour to recitations of Holman Day ''poems,'' positive evidence that things are looking up and will get better. The show, voiced by Joe Perham and Benny Reehl, was produced in a real honest-to-goodness Grange Hall by Gordon Wark, and should easily win the 1982 television award. Many a spurious ''down-Mainer'' has been celebrated of late, as shouldn't, and cheers ran across Maine when Holman Day surprisingly and almost improbably appeared.

Back in the 1950s, when this weekly effort was being tested and Erwin Canham was this newspaper's editor, I quoted from Holman Day's ''The Pants Jemimy Made, '' and Erwin challenged my accuracy. Reason suggests it is imprudent to tangle with your editor, but those pants were important to Erwin and me, both being well brought up Maine boys, and it turned out we were both right. He sent an office boy to the Boston Public Library for a copy of Pine Tree Balladsm , and I went to my dad. Day wrote the rhymes for the Lewiston Journalm , and when they appeared my dad memorized them and recited them in the school declamation class, 1890. Later, Day revised his first version, changing some words here and there, and Jemimy's pants went into a book in 1902, from which Erwin ''committed'' and recited at Thorne's Corner Grange. For at least two full generations, almost every boy in Maine could repeat ''The Pants Jemimy Made'' - Erwin and I knew that, but the to-do must have seemed like much over nothing to the other staffers in Boston.

Holman Day was born in Vassalboro in 1865, was graduated by Colby, and became editor of the weekly Dexter Gazettem . He moved on to the Lewiston Journalm , which was one of the real old newspaperman's newspapers. For one thing, it was edited by Arthur G. Staples for a thousand years or so, a first-rate essayist whose ''Just Talks'' rank with the best. He trained Edward Page Mitchell, who went with Dana on the Sunm . One of his boys was Roy Atkinson, who moved along to the Boston Postm and engineered the great Joe Knowles caper to prove that Tarzan of the apes could have done it. ''Uncle Jack'' Whitney was a woman, and left the Journalm to be press agent for John Philip Sousa. For thirty-five years the agriculture editor of theJournalm was Vincent Canham, father of this paper's esteemed former editor. And there was Holman Day, who moved to Frank Munsey's Boston Journal city staff, and then on to Hollywood as a scenarist for silent pictures. Later he formed a company and produced several movies, some from his own novels.

Jemimy made this feller a pair of home-spun pants, and he wore 'em one day while clearing some land. He'd stick the snout of his plow under a stump, gee up the oxen, and pull the stump. But one rauncher in the middle of the field wouldn't budge, and in a final effort he put the oxen on the run and hit the stump full speed. Plow split the stump, plow and feller passed through the cleft , and the two halves snapped shut to grab the feller ''right where Jemimy left the slack.'' Right! Oxen kept going, feller kept the handles, stump and pants held, and out came the stump. Nobody makes pants like that nowadays.

If for no other reason, Holman Day should be in the Oxford Companionm for his exemplary use of the classical unity of time - a precise nicety that deserves study in writing seminars. Set in the Maine woods, the novel's entire action takes place after the cookee strikes the lumbercamp gong and before the choppers sit down to table. Beat that, anybody!

It is not amazing that my dad could repeat Jemimym a full seventy years after he memorized it. I used to ''do'' some Day, and I can run several of them now. Erwin never forgot those he ''learnt.'' And across Maine enough like us still hang on to make this television show a huge success. Why, it certainly did have ''Aunt Shaw's Pet Jug!'' Poor joker falls down the cellar stairs while carrying his wife's heirloom pitcher. Nigh kill't him. ''Did you break my jug?'' she yells - not a word about him. He hadn't. Bump for bump he held it secure. But irked by her shout, he smashed the thing.

Make a howl to your local public TV. Get 'em to play that show. You'll like Holman Day.

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