Bard of the Bay

Burton K. Janes
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There was a time when Tim Brown of Coley’s Point could write an album’s worth of lyrics in the length of time it takes to drive from Corner Brook to St. John’s.

Tim Brown, also known as the Bard of the Bay, continues to write poetry despite the effects of two strokes he had in 1997. — Photo by Burton K. Janes/The Compass

Which is exactly what he did, after his friend announced on radio that the duo was about to put out a cassette tape of inspirational music.

But that was before the strokes.

Everything changed.

“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.”

His passion for poetry was sparked 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.

He only heard 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 stayed with him all his life, forming the basis of his poetry.

After 17 years working on the mainland, Brown returned to the province for good around 1984. Choosing stories from his vast memory bank, he turned 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, he 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 contain more than 50 original songs.

Tim was on a roll.

Then he widened his public activities by performing for groups and 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.

“Before the strokes, you could say a word and I’d write a poem. Now I really have to work at it.” Tim Brown

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 recalled.

Five years, to be exact.

“A lot of things that used to come natural to me don’t anymore,” he said.

He lost interest in writing and focused on recovery.

The personality changes in Tim were immediate and finding coping skills proved challenging.

But apparently, not all the changes were bad.

“The strokes left Tim a nicer person,” Anne said with a smile.

Tim agrees.

“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,” he explained.

Eventually, he took up his pen again.

Ron Young, the founding editor of Downhome magazine, and Marion Hennebury, creator of the Newfoundland Poetry website, encouraged Tim to resume his writing. He’s 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 have 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.

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 for someone who has triumphed over adversity.

The Compass

Organizations: Downhome magazine, The Compass

Geographic location: Carmanville

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