“People deal with their issues in different ways. Some people find God. Some people find health, Some people find tofu. For me, I found spoken word. Poetry saved my life.”
This often became the mantra of beloved “East Van Ghetto Poet” whose full lawful name was Zaccheus Charles Jackson Nyce. After watching his bold quick delivery performances, audiences were often left still counting syllables and significance in their heads.
Zaccheus was born on September 9, 1977 in Edmonton, Alberta, Canada to a young single mother(Marlene Jackson) from the Blackfoot Pikani Nation. From the age of five months, Zac was raised by adoptive parents (Clarence Nyce and Terry Zaugg) in the region of Kitimat, BC, who immersed him in a home full of books coupled with First Nations traditions and oral storytelling. His first exposure to poetry came in the fourth grade when he was asked to memorize and recite the famous Robert W. Service poem,”The Cremation of Sam McGee.” Although quite resistant at first, it gave Zaccheus his first insight into the power of words.
Zaccheus spent his childhood and early teens in northern British Columbia, where he was often the recipient of legends told by his Grandpa Nyce. Due to a family separation, in his mid teens Zac moved to southern Alberta where he attended high school, after which, he returned to Terrace, BC. As a young adult he began his struggles with drug addiction and for a period of five years hard drugs became his demon. So much so, that he found himself for awhile on the streets of Calgary, AB trying to survive. It was during this period of time while Zaccheus was incarcerated that he would eventually phrase, “Words found me”. He began to pen poems describing his experiences with addictions such as “Dominoes”, “Chief” and “Recovery”.
Once released, Zaccheus earned enough money to move to Vancouver, BC. There he lived in an apartment on Commercial Drive. It was during this time that an argument with his girlfriend had sent him out for an evening walk. He came across the words “Slam Poetry” sketched on a chalkboard outside of a small venue called, Cafe Deux Soleils. Not having any understanding of what the words meant Zaccheus went inside out of curiosity. There he discovered that a poetry competition was currently taking place and that it was open to the general public. The rules of the competition stated that competitors needed an original poem up to three minutes in length in order to score points from five random judges chosen by the audience. Not having anything to lose, he competed and ended up in second place which miraculously earned him a spot in a semi-finals contest.
That first year Zaccheus finished in the top four overall, which in turn earned him a spot on the Vancouver Slam Poetry Team. During this time he continued to recover from his drug addiction and thereafter would compete as an official team member for Vancouver’s Poetry Slam Team six more times, from 2007-2014. In 2013 he was named “Vancouver Grand Slam Champ”. Zaccheus won the Individual World Poetry Slam Championship in 2007 and during his career won several other individual poetry slam titles. In 2007 and 2008 he twice represented Vancouver as well as Western Canada at the Individual World Poetry Slam. Zac was asked to host slam competitions regularly and also released two albums of his work and poetry; Humanifesto and Dimes Elephants and Airplanes (his three greatest fears).
As Zaccheus continued to perform and write poetry he in turn gained the desire to also educate others working with Word Play, a Vancouver Poetry House program that are routinely invited to run poetry workshops and perform at assemblies for public middle schools and high schools. He also was heavily involved with Full Circle, a local performance arts group that focuses on First Nation stories and works specifically with the Urban Native Youth Association. Zac visited public schools, aboriginal communities and remote northern areas all across Canada sharing stories about his past and astonishing kids with his electrifying and spirited performances. His rapid fire delivery and incisive word play often elicited standing ovations. Many of his poems were kept in his head and not written down. As a passionate spoken word educator he continually inspired many youth to make something of themselves, leaving them empowered and wide-eyed after his energetic and explosive performances. Perhaps as a reflection of his own childhood and teenage struggles, he was always an advocate for the underdog and wanted to eventually teach full time.
Zaccheus did everything in a big way. His smile was as large as his laugh and when he danced, his 4 siblings recalled him literally needing his own “space”. Other passions included morning swims, cooking huge holiday meals for the neighborhood, music, his cat Maynard, his family and ketchup. He worked mainly in narrative form with his poetry, as people and their stories fascinated him. Many personal and autobiographical truths are also written into his poems with the use of word play and rhythm. When delivering, there was only one pace; fast.
Zaccheus was accidentally killed when hit by a three locomotive train in western Toronto on August 27, 2014 while in the midst of a nine week solo tour across Canada. He was 36 years old and just barely tapping into his full potential as one of Canada’s top slam poets and creative language arts educators. Sadly, one of his hopes was to reconnect with his Blackfoot roots and blood family. Just months prior to his death, Zaccheus had become close to his blood sister Destiny. During his memorial celebration near Commercial Drive in Vancouver, overwhelming support was shown by members of the slam poet community and East Van. In honor of him, the memorial was streamed live all across Canada and into parts of the United States. Members of Zac’s family are currently working on publishing his poetry into written works.
One of Zac’s goals (quoted from his piece Inspiration) was to, “One day write a rhyme worthy of the lines etched beneath the eyes of the elderly.” Perhaps his powerful and politically driven poem, Invicta singularly achieves this. Or perhaps the unassuming tragic story of “Dom”, from Dominoes, strikes a chord in the hearts of many Canadian youth who have lost their way and have become forgotten in the unfair shuffle of life. Either way, his loving message is the same; that “when the time comes to stumble, [you’'ll] be strong and remember to stand.”
-A Child’s Bright Eyes, Zaccheus Jackson