Zaccheus Jackson, 'firecracker' East Van poet, dead at 36
36-year-old Alberta-born Blackfoot nation member found his voice in Canada's slam poetry scene
A void has been ripped into the lives of family, friends and Canada's spoken word community with the death of 36-year-old Zaccheus Jackson this week.
Jackson, who became a fixture and inspiration in Vancouver's slam poetry scene starting nine years ago, was struck and killed by a train in Toronto on Wednesday.
The last photo Jackson shared online shows him hanging out at the side of the tracks with a six-pack of beer.
Police say his death appears to be accidental, and friends and fellow poets say he was in the midst of a solo tour of Canada when the tragedy happened. Jackson was set to return to Vancouver in October.
"He didn't get a chance to say goodbye," said Jillian Christmas, Vancouver's current Poetry Slam Champion who performed nationally alongside Jackson as part of the 2013 Van Slam team. "But he never missed a chance to say thank you. He never missed a chance to say thank you."
On his Facebook page, Jackson credits the opportunities he found with East Vancouver's spoken word scene and the surrounding Commercial Drive community with helping him to break his drug addiction and "for giving him something worthwhile to dream about."
Jackson, a member of the Blackfoot nation was born in Alberta and eventually ended up living in East Vancouver, where his drug addiction took hold and where he found a way to beat it.
Duncan Shields, who now runs the Vancouver Poetry Slam, says Jackson joined a slam competition on Commercial Drive one day on a whim.
"Right here on this stage," Shields said at Café Deux Soleils. "He was walking past and he just wanted to come in. He didn't know what a poetry slam was but did a lot of writing and wanted to try it out."
He went on to win a spot on the Vancouver Poetry Slam Team that would compete nationally in 2005. He joined Vancouver's official delegation four more times—in 2007, 2008, 2012 and 2013—and won a number of poetry slam titles over the years.
Brendan McLeod, a fellow travelling troubadour and one of Jackson's many word-weaving friends, said Jackson's explosive energy and raw emotion took people in immediately.
"Right off the top he's just such a firecracker of a performer. Really rapid fire delivery with a lot of heart and passion... Earnest."
McLeod says he saw Jackson perform just a few weeks ago, where something special happened.
"It was not his typical demographic," McLeod said—explaining that Jackson performed for and worked with teenagers a lot. "It was about 300, like, more elderly people. He was just amazing... At the end he got this a huge standing ovation.
"He was able to connect with people of all generations," McLeod said.
He didn't know that would be the last time they would see each other.
Jackson, who said he was "raised by wolves since birth," was also raised by his adoptive parents.
In a statement to CBC, his family said he was "a free spirit" and an artist.
"Like most successful artists, he needed life experiences to bring him inspiration."
A public memorial for Zaccheus Jackson is being held Tuesday, Sept. 2, at the WISE Hall at 1882 Adanac Street in Vancouver, B.C., starting at 6:30 p.m. PT.
With files from the CBC's Jeff Harrington