Brandon Pitts remembers Canadian poet Nik Beat.
As those closest to me already know, I am sad to announce the passing of my extremely close and dear friend Nik Beat. Nik was a brother to me and his passing is shocking and tragic. The Toronto poetry scene has lost one of it’s brightest talents. Whenever I was in need, Nik would be there. He was always putting others before himself. I keep referring to him as though he were still around. I can’t seem to bring myself to speak of him in the past tense.
Nik was always an inspiration. When I would read or hear some of his more sublime poems I understood Nik to be the real deal in command of a dying art. I drew so much artistic energy from Nik. He was the one of the few people I would try out new work on before presenting it to the public. Of course he would always be complimentary, but his vibe would let you know if were a masterpiece or just crap. His passing is leaving a hole in my life that I’m not sure I can fill. I’m sitting here in disbelief. He was so full of life and lived it to the hilt – always, go man go!
I knew in my heart that he would never be a senior citizen. It just wasn’t his style. But still, his passing has come as a shock.
Since the 90s, Nik has been a hallmark of poetry in Toronto and 2014 saw a resurgence in his work. Just three days before he died, Nik completed work on a spoken word album. I was privy to hear some of the work in progress this past July and was blown away, feeling that he had taken his work to a whole new level.
I also have an unpublished complete manuscript of Nik’s poetry that he gave me to help him format for submission. I am going to see to it that it is published in a volume that he would be proud of.
Nik and I spoke a couple of days before he passed and he told me that he was planning on visiting me in Seattle. I hope he makes good on this promise and his spirit checks in on me.
Nik Beat as Romantic Scientist
From where comes the ripple?
Nik, you were but a pebble dropped from an uncaring sky
to push the waters out of your way
just to make space
causing a wake that swelled into something epic
something given to all that knew you
that we in turn give to others
like a touch that lingers and grows
long after the finger has left
leaving its immortal mark
this is the toil !of the Romantic Scientist
It was Norman Cristofoli who introduced us. It was Norman who showed me that Rock ‘n’ Roll could be poetry. Seeing that’s where I was headed, he said, “You need to meet Nik Beat. I’ll give him a call.”
It was an experience meeting Nik. I got wrapped up in his esthetic and artistic sensibilities. He had a poem, “God as Romantic Scientist,” part of a series of “Romantic Scientist” poems. The concept fascinated me and I often lured him into conversation about what exactly a romantic scientist was. He had been toiling on a manuscript which is now the book, “Famous for Falling” and his book Tyranny of Love was riddled with this concept of the tragic romantic, who abandoned personal wellbeing for the creation of pure art, who went to those places where the average person would back away from in a state of fear or common sense. This fearless/foolish soul was the Romantic Scientist. I remember Nik calling me up, and telling me that our friend Paris Black was playing at the Duke on Queen Street, and we should go and see him perform with his band. I walked up to Nik’s apartment and we drove out to the Duke. We walked in and the place was empty, except for the bartender and a drunk sitting at the bar. We were heart broken, thinking, “Oh no, no one has shown up to Paris’ gig.” We asked the bartender when Paris Black would be going on. “Tomorrow,” he said. We had the wrong date.
Feeling like a couple of idiots, we turned around to leave and then we saw it, painted onto the wall was a mural of Elvis, late 70s in his white large lapel jumpsuit with a cape, sweating and bloated from drugs. The artist had clearly captured that other worldly emoting that Elvis routinely put out. We turned and looked at each other, knowing that Elvis was the penultimate Romantic Scientist. We stood there for about twenty minutes discussing Elvis as Romantic Scientist until it dawned on me, that Nik too was a Romantic Scientist, that he wouldn’t ever grow old because he was living life full tilt and would live well over a hundred years in half the time, pulling every ounce of life out of each second. For Nik, a proper life path and it’s rules didn’t matter ’cause he couldn’t understand compromise, nor could he suffer bullshit.
He taught me that if you’re going to make great art, art comes first and that’s what matters.
My favorite story about Nik Beat is about the day before I wrote the poem, The Apocalypse of Weeks from my forthcoming collection of poems, Tender in the Age of Fury. I dedicate the poem to “Pope Francis and the original Christians, dangerous people who were thrown to the lions, and Canadian poet Nik Beat, for the day he stood up to confront the priest before the entire congregation, singlehandedly reclaiming the last vestiges of Rock ‘n’ Roll.”
It all started with Canadian poet, Susan Munro. Susan had gone to see the Holy Rood, a piece of the cross that had been used to crucify Jesus. Susan had called me, telling me that the energy coming off the Cross was like Reiki and had the power to heal. Being a religious skeptic, especially in regards to Roman Catholicism, I told her I wanted to see this supposed relic with a mind to debunk it. The next day she took me to a church in North Toronto where a small group of people stood in line to see this tiny piece of wood purported to be taken from the original cross which no longer exists. It was true, I could feel the energy coming off the Cross, like a powerful dose of Reiki. The woman in front of me collapsed as if smitten by a divine presence as I felt a powerful energy come through me.
Few people know this, but Nik was very into Jesus and considered himself to be Catholic. He was always having to forgive my blasphemies during conversation. In fact, I’ve known very few people so into Jesus, so I gave him a call, telling him that he should go and see this piece of the Cross. Nik had reservations. The Cross was being moved the next day to his old church. He had quit going and became disillusioned after four boys had been molested by the former priest, but wanting to experience the Cross, he decided to meet me at the Don Mills Subway Station along with our friend, singer Laura L’Rock.
Unlike the day before, the church was so packed that we had to park seven blocks away. When we got inside, there were no seats. Senior citizens were having to stand in the isles or sit on the ground while young people filled the pews, refusing to get up. The amount of people was overwhelming the air conditioning and the old people, along with mothers holding babies, were visibly suffering. The priest, oblivious to all this was going on and on in a lengthy sermon, shouting things like, “If you miss one day of confession in thirty years you will burn in hell for all eternity! While the sinner who never misses confession will certainly walk in heaven with Christ. These are the shackles of Satan! Etc! Etc!”
Nik was visibly shaken and I took him by the arm and pulled him outside. “I can’t take this guy,” he said. “I haven’t heard a sermon like this in thirty years.”
Outside, there were senior citizens sitting on the ground suffering. One woman overheard Nik and said, “I just want to see the Cross but I can’t take it. No one will give me a seat and it’s so hot. This sermon’s been going on for forty minutes.”
Another woman sitting on the cement pulled out a one dollar coin and said, “I’ll give this dollar to anyone willing to go in there and tell the priest to shut up.”
Nik took the dollar, entered the church, and marched center isle right up to the priest, standing at the foot of the stage and said, “Excuse me.” The priest went on shouting fire and brimstone. “Excuse me,” Nik kept repeating until the priest stopped and looked at him. “Excuse me. There are senior citizens standing and sitting on the floor. Some are on the concrete outside. None of these young people will give up there seat for them. Since this isn’t Christian behavior, maybe you could direct them to give up their seats or cut your sermon short and let the old people see the Cross so they can leave.”
The priest shouted, “You sir, are out of line. Leave the church immediately!”
No,” said Nik, “you sir are out of line, shouting about going to hell and allowing all of this.”
“Sir,” shouted the priest, “leave the church immediately!”
“Gladly,” said Nik, holding up the dollar coin. “Put this in your collection box; and I hope you give all the money to the four boys who got raped here last summer.” Then he threw the coin at the priest and walked out of the church. Laura and I had to rush him out as we were about to get lynched by the mob.
And this is how Nik Beat singlehandedly reclaimed the last vestiges of Rock ‘n’ Roll. The next day, I went to see the Cross again, with a woman whom I call in the poem, the “Daughter of Irma.” Later that night, the poem was imprinted in my head. Once again, Nik was a muse.
Literary works by Nik Beat:
Cartoon Rome (Labour of Love/Coffee House Press)
Angels andAmphetamines (Insomniac Press)
The Tyranny of Love (Seraphim Editions)
Famous for Falling (Lyrical Miracle Press)
Amazing Secret Dreams (Poetry manuscript, unpublished at this time)
The Other Side (Novella, unpublished at this time)
Here is the first stanza of the second poem in my first collection of poems, Pressure to Sing
What spurs you on?
Painting pictures with words
sculpting with rhythm
tending the infirm
on couches that used to be your own,
flesh you once held
that ate itself into nothing
leaving only a ghost
Was it that spirit, whom you loved
the purity of soul, seen through a tainted body
was that what made you write these poems?
Goodbye dear friend I would hand you the laurels were they but mine to give.