Toronto's poetry community is mourning the passing of one of its mainstays, longtime CIUT Howl host, poet and singer-songwriter, Nik Beat, a.k.a. Michael Barry.
Beat manned the mics at the venerable college broadcaster for 17 years, sharing the honours with Nancy Bullis, his show becoming a nexus not only for Toronto poets but for all poets passing through the Little Apple and in need of promo and support.
Rock chanteuse Alannah Myles, who has worked with Barry, sees him as a poetic philanthrope, one whose loss will be keenly felt by "the many artists he supported long after their stars were abandoned to posterity."
He leaves behind three poetry collections (one of which I edited), a new novella that was set to be released on the very weekend of his passing - and in classic too-early-a-death style - a just completed CD of recent songs, Famous for Falling.
As soon as the news of his passing hit last week there were questions. He had suffered bouts of severe depression in his time and he had gone quiet on Facebook in the two weeks preceding his death. He was quickly cremated so such questions may remain open for some time. The unofficial verdict, however, is that Barry died of what's being described as a "heart event."
Despite his signature black leather jacket and general tough guy appearance, Beat was known and appreciated much more for his sweetness than his hard edge. Or, as Illustrated Men's maestro Bruce Hunter put it he was "dangerous looking with a creamy filling."
Broadcaster and poet Jaymz Bee also remembers that heart-of-gold quality.
"He was innately inclusive. Nobody was too funny or serious for his poetry events."
This legacy of kindness, attested to by the number of poets whom he mentored and encouraged over the years, was much praised at his funeral service on Tuesday and deservedly so.
Kindness is a great legacy that any of us might strive for, but maybe least of all poets. So I'll honour him by saying that I found him to be ambitious, competitive, sulky and given to extreme bouts of road rage. He could be moody, broody and inexplicably petulant. He was certainly no saint. But definitely a poet.
When he wrote a good poem, as in his classic Unkill or his more recent Che Guevara, he was right up there with the best of them.
He was also a sweet and fluid singer with an effortless angelic range. Or as friend and poet Lynn Crosbie put it in a poem for Beat posted on her website: "He had a voice like a jar of panty remover." Now that's a legacy.