Martyn Brown: Poet, Anarchist, Collector

Martyn Henry Brown was a man of many talents and passions, a lot of which he passed down and shared with his family. Today, April 6th 2021, would have been his 82nd birthday. I was so lucky to have Martyn Brown as my Grandad and I’d like to share with you some of the great things I learned from him.

Love and respect nature

I remember once I was in the back garden picking mulberries from Grandad’s precious mulberry tree, when I hoisted myself up onto the brick wall and Grandad told me to be careful. I’d just kicked some moss to the ground without thinking of it. He pointed to the rest of the moss on the wall and said to me: “You know, the moss feels things, just like me and you.” I didn’t quite understand how moss could feel things and I was confused about this statement for many years. But it instantly made me respect nature and consider my relationship with it.

Grandad loved nature, he was a bird watcher and knew the names of plants and animals which he passed down to his daughters. I remember one time when I was ten I was walking with him behind a hotel in Italy and he would get all excited as he pointed out lizards and dragon flies to me. I knew in that moment that he felt the same bliss at seeing them that I did.

One of Grandad’s poems about Swifts learning to fly

Express Yourself

Grandad expressed himself in many many ways — his fashion, music, poetry, and his giant museum-like collection of antiques. He was always wearing his jewellery and had a closet that could house Narnia. He encouraged his New Romantic daughters when they combed their hair big, shaved it short, and posed in gothic clothes in graveyards. He similarly encouraged me and my cousin’s fashion sense and even gave me some of my skull rings, waistcoats, and loud jewellery. He didn’t care about gender norms or what other people thought, he just thought people should express themselves however they wanted. I’m so grateful to have had a grandad who felt like this.

The written word is emotional

I remember in year seven I wrote an emotional poem about being bullied and standing up for yourself. I was studying Shakespeare at the time and my poetry had some wild language and imagery interlaced in it. I proudly read it out to my family at a dinner out somewhere, and my Grandad was so impressed with me he took me aside after and said with an emotion-filled voice that he loved it.

Fast forward eight years, after he had had his diagnosis, when we were sitting in my nan and grandad’s living room and I asked him to read out some of his poetry. He read a poem about meeting my nan and marrying her. He started crying halfway through the poem and read the rest all chocked up. It was because of grandad I realised how much weight and emotion is carried in the written word.

The first time I saw you, you were dancing with a girlfriend

In a dancehall, around two handbags.

I too was with my friends from my unit in the Army.

I claimed a dance, but you refused me oh so politely,

So I persisted and you resisted until eventually you gave in.

When we married you wore a Chanel suit,

Not quite lilac but pink, with a hat.

And oh, did we speak.

Poem by Martyn Brown

Acceptance

My grandad was the joint-head of a family filled with pagans, queers, non-conforming political women and Rockstar men, and he accepted us all. He wasn’t phased by me being gay, or writing an essay in a book about my (strong) feelings on the absurdity of gender roles. In fact, I dedicated this essay to him because it was grandad’s belief in self expression and his acceptance and support which led me to where I am today. He loved me so much for being just who I am. I wish I had more time to tell him how much that meant to me.

My grandad was a poet, a musician, an anarchist, a wine taster, an antique collector, and so much more. He travelled the world, made many friends in many places, and started a family with my nan. He had an amazing life; being a rascal at school who climbed trees when he wasn’t meant to, working in the first coffee house of Newcastle, playing guitar and and even meeting The Beatles. He was an amazing and complex husband, dad and grandfather. We shared a lot of loves; nature, poetry, Chaucer, and a sense of creativity, wonderment and humour. I miss him so much. He passed in 2020, at the end of his birth month. But he will always live on in our memories. And I hope that from this you take a piece of him with you and believe in yourself. Write that poem, wear that statement piece, go out in nature and lose yourself in the poetry of the world. Do it with a glass of wine if you want to (he would.)

Happy birthday Grandad. I love you.

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