Bard Bay of the
Coley’s Point poet triumphing over adversity
There was a time when Tim Brown of Coley’s Point in Bay Roberts could write the lyrics for a full album of music in the length of time it takes to drive from Corner Brook to St. John’s.
Which is exactly what he did, after a friend announced on radio that the duo was about to put out an inspirational tape.
But that was before the strokes. Then everything changed. Writing poetry used to come easy to Brown. “Before the strokes, you could say a word and I’d write a poem,” the 66-year-old said. “Now I really have to work at it.”
Brown’s passion for poetry was sparked back in Carmanville, where he was born.
“ The only entertainment we had in those days was hanging around the old fellows’ sheds and listening to the yarns they told each other,” Brown recalled. But he heard only the sanitized stories that way. “ They wouldn’t tell the really good stories if I was in the shed,” Brown said with a laugh. “So I found a place down under Uncle Jim Ellsworth’s shed where I could hide and hear everything.”
What Brown heard as a boy stayed with him all his life, forming the basis of his poems.
After 17 years working on the mainland, Brown returned to the province for good around 1984. Choosing stories from his vast memory bank, he rearranged them into poems.
That was the beginning of a collection of several hundred pieces — and counting. They deal with a wide variety of topics, from “Uncle Billy’s Pride” to “ Women’s Tears,” from “As Morning Breaks” to “Oh, to be a Scholar.”
Encouraged by his wife, Anne Collins Brown, Tim began reading his compositions at small gatherings and social events. “People liked my poems,” he admitted. Unfortunately, he had a nasty habit of tossing out everything he wrote. Anne convinced her husband to save his writings. Over a three-year period, Tim wrote and recorded two solo cassettes and two with his friend Dave Pike. The four albums together make up more than 50 original songs.
Tim was on a roll. The rate at which he composed poems and songs would tire the hardiest person.
Tim widened his public activities by performing for groups and doing voluntary performances in senior citizens homes. His attempts to recapture the activities of characters from the old days inspired his audiences.
By the late 1990s, Tim’s music was receiving airplay and attention from artists in the province and on the mainland. His future seemed promising. But without warning, in 1997, he had a mild stroke.
“ When I got up from the table, I felt my tongue get thick and I wanted to throw up,” Tim said.
The next morning, he was admitted to the hospital for back surgery. That night, he had another stroke. This one was massive. He was paralyzed on his left side for nine days.
“ I went through depression for a while. I didn’t write anything for a nice while after,” Tim commented.
Five years, to be exact.
“A lot of things that used to come natural to me don’t anymore,” Tim added.
He lost interest in writing. He focused on recovery.
The personality changes in Tim were immediate. Creating coping skills proved challenging. Apparently, not all the changes were bad.
“ The strokes left Tim a nicer person,” Anne said with a smile.
Tim agrees with his wife’s assessment.
“ Before the strokes, I was very aggressive. My attitude was, If you didn’t like my gate, then don’t swing on it. But the strokes made me passive,” Tim explained.
Eventually, Tim took up his pen again.
Ron Young, founding editor of Downhome magazine, and Marion Hennebury, creator of the Newfoundland Poetry website, encouraged Tim to resume his writing. He has been composing poetry ever since. Now, though, the process is much more studied and deliberate.
“Most everything came back,” Tim said. “ What didn’t come back, I compensated for.”
The strokes changed Tim’s attitude to life in general.
“It used to be, ‘ Woe is me. Everything’s falling apart.’ But I restarted writing with a whole different attitude to what’s important in life. It was time to start over,” Tim said.
What advice does Tim have for people who face similar challenges in life?
“ So many couples break up after one partner suffers a stroke. The most important thing is to have a good support system in place,” he said.
The conclusion to one of Tim’s poems reads, “ Time now to trim my sails and wait / For the wind determined by my fate.”
An apt description of one who has triumphed over adversity.
Tim Brown, also known as the Bard of the Bay, continues to write poetry despite the effects of the two strokes he suffered in 1997.
Tim Brown of Coley’s Point reading from a favourite book of Newfoundland stories.