Tag Archives: Don Colburn

Comings and goings, farewells and hellos

Odin, slayer of the Frost Giant, riding Sleipnir. 18th C. Icelandic, Danish Royal Library/Wikimedia Commons

Three days before Christmas and a day past Winter Solstice, our lives are a crazy mixup of anticipation and loss. The longest night has given way to the rebirth of light. Summer’s a bare blip beyond the horizon, but we’ve turned the corner. Old Father Time is creaking toward New Year’s Eve, when that perky bouncing baby takes over with all the foolish optimism of inexperience. Christmas presents? Yup, we’re looking forward to ’em. Midwinter indeed, but hope is on the rise.

It’s a season for goodbyes and hellos and reinventions, and as we say a few farewells we suspect the people involved are like the seasons: This is a passage to something invigorated and refreshed.


Fifty-two Pieces, one of Art Scatter’s favorite blogs, is about to enter its fifty-second week, and for its authors, Amy and LaValle, that will mean an ending and a beginning. They started their blog on Jan. 1, 2009, with the express intent of continuing it for fifty-two weeks and then letting a good thing go.

Each week this year they’ve chosen a single artist in the collections of the Portland Art Museum and explored his or her life and work in all sorts of fascinating ways. We’ve enjoyed the journey immensely, and now it’s almost over. We can hardly wait to see what comes next. God Jol.


Father Christmas riding a goat; origin unknown. Wikimedia CommonsOur good friend Barry Johnson, the original Scatterer, who had the idea for this blog and brought it into being before parting amicably to pursue his own arts column and Portland Arts Watch blog for The Oregonian, has come to another parting. Friday, Dec. 18, was his final day with The Oregonian: He took one of the buyouts that have become business as usual in the newspaper racket, following Mr. Scatter’s example from two years ago. Time to reboot, Barry said in his final column. Out with the old. In with new ideas.

Some of the newest ideas he’s packing with him. We welcome Barry with open arms into the outside world, where we’re sure he’s going to have a key role in reinventing arts journalism for the post-print universe. Have your people call Mr. Scatter’s people, Barry. We’ll do coffee. (Lunch, in the post-paycheck economy, is a rarer commodity, but hey, we might spring for that, too.)


As newspapers continue their freefall toward what every sane observer hopes will be a soft landing spot of shrunken but lively equilibrium, a lot of other former colleagues from The Oregonian have accepted their walking papers, too. Informed opinion has it that the 30-plus in the newsroom who accepted the latest buyout aren’t enough, and next time around, for the first time, it’ll be layoffs — maybe as early as February. Oh, yes. It’s midwinter, all right.

A few from the class of late ’09 (there was a spring class, too; Mrs. Scatter got her diploma then) I don’t know, or barely know, or in a few cases, such as photographer Olivia Bucks, don’t really know except through their often exemplary work.

Let me mention a few I have known and admired and enjoyed as colleagues. As the song says, the best is yet to come:

Inara Verzemnieks, a wonderful storyteller whose stories are only going to get bigger and better. We swapped ideas and talked about writing. I even learned how to spell her name without looking it up.

John Foyston, a terrific feature writer and a good amateur painter who was a bracing antidote to journalism by Ivy League degree. Not many newspapermen are also experienced motorcycle mechanics. Fortunately he’ll continue writing his yeasty beer column for the O.

Don Colburn, a damn fine poet; Jonathan Brinkman, who knows how to make business writing lively and engaging; Abby Haight, a model of journalistic flexibility; Gordon Oliver, quiet competence and all-around good sense incarnate.

Ralph Wells, an articulate gentleman and former cab driver (and husband of Carol Wells, a freelance theater critic who’s brought some sparkle to the O).

Copy editors Jan Jackson and Pat Harrison, who on many occasions quietly saved me from myself. Copy editor Ann Ereline, an Estonian who gave me good advice about visiting there 10 years ago. And copy editor and old friend Ed Hunt, who was at the O and its late sister the Oregon Journal even before I was, and who helped me through a post-merger crisis when a long-departed editor was gunning for me. Ed’s advice was stunningly simple and practical: Go over his head.

Photo guy Mike Davis, who fought for visual storytelling.

John Hamlin, who moved from news and design (he was once a managing editor) into the strange new world of computerization and ably helped the rest of us do the things we needed to do.

The brain drain in the newspaper industry has been swift and barely fathomable. While a few nitwits in the blogosphere celebrate this, it’s creating a crisis for the great American experiment in representative democracy.

But the days are getting longer. A whiff of hope is in the air. Some of these people will be finding solutions to the newsgathering crisis. All of them will move into fresh new lives. It’s cold, but it’s also kind of exhilarating.

Goodbye and hello, my friends. And thanks.



  • Top: Illustration from an 18th century Icelandic manuscript of Odin riding his steed Sleipnir after defeating Ymir, the Ice Giant. In the midst of darkness, let there be light. Danish Royal Library/Wikimedia Commons
  • Inset: Father Christmas riding a goat; origin unknown. Wikimedia Commons.

Poem for city travelers: reading and writing on the bus


Anna Griffin’s column today in The Oregonian about poetry disappearing from buses makes my heart hurt. I love those poems, those found sparks of life, and I will sorely miss them if they disappear. Often, when I was lost in thought on the bus, I would spy one of those poems and read it over and over. I would crane my neck around other passengers to follow the lines.

Credit: TriMetPerhaps if the poetry cards go away, riders could start carrying around books of poetry — reading them, exchanging them, passing them around. TriMet could have stacks of books on the bus, donated by riders, free for the taking and dropping off again.

Perhaps riders could start writing poetry. Maybe TriMet could run its own poetry contest. It would be fitting for buses and MAX trains to run local poems. If TriMet pays to print cards anyway for public service announcements, why not some inspiring art? Worried about printing costs? Use recycled paper and Sharpies, have people write their own poems, pick the best and most legible, and paste them on the old boards. Why stop at poetry in motion? Decorate them. TriMet would be so hip. TriMet would be … so Portland.

What’s the harm? What’s to lose? Look at everything TriMet has to gain: public outreach, supporting the arts, good vibes for riders, a happier Portland, impressing tourists, giving itself a great image boost.

Maybe TriMet could spearhead various literary efforts: One week, a free ride if you have a poetry book, for instance. Another week if you have a book more than an inch thick. Another week if you have a Newbery Medal book. It could be a wonderfully organic, perfect-for-Portland kind of thing. Think of the heady, positive impact that could have.

When I had to start commuting on the bus, I didn’t entirely like the idea. I didn’t like the idea of sitting next to people who smelled like pee, or of listening to overblown phone conversations. But I quickly realized it was good head time. I liked being part of the everyday jostlings of people getting to places. The ride made me take the time to see and hear, and made my brain turn over many a matter.

My whole Henry James gig that ran in The Oregonian got its life on the bus.

Don Colburn: gravity on the bus
And that’s where I read As If Gravity Were a Theory, a book of poetry by Don Colburn.
I worked with Don at The Oregonian. He sat across from me. He whirs a whistle on occasion when a rowdy celebratory moment deserves it. He’s a health writer by day. But other times he writes beautiful, brain-tickling verse. His title poem ran in The Oregonian. It’s worth every careful winged word.

Don has no idea that I wrote a poem many months ago about reading his poetry on the bus. What poetry ride will you take? Will TriMet take up the challenge?

Don, I Read You on the Bus

Words flit by like traffic lights
blinking colors
in stop and go.

The bus bends
the way you say clouds kneel
and people file on
clinking coins
It’s gray outside.

Heads framed
by wide windows
scuzzy on the outside.
Whole bridges stand in
as backdrops
and then whiz gone.

I drop in and out
of poems
the way I drop in and out
of people.
The everyday.
I rock and sway with suspension,
re-sort my bags
and zone in
on a life sliced uneasy.
I’m lost. Forgotten.
Unconsciously counting the meter
in my head,
rewording the words
and slipping into spaces
of someone else
in some other place.

That was streets ago.
White tennis shoes
center my gaze
blue jeans
coat no hat
and the slow focus
to a face creased brown
like fresh-made paper
and lips flat quiet.

Then the woman
and the hill and the pill.
I’m stepping with her
going up and going down
lost in her rhythm
and life’s seasons

when the driver honks goodbye
to a toddler waving,
his eyes following small steps,
though his expression doesn’t change.

My eyes refocus
to a tan trenchcoat,
black hat and headphones,
a paperback with bus ticket bookmarks.
He’s lost in a John Grisham world.

Black words
make sense of
white paper
and when I read
there in your
15th and Fremont,
my stop in just a few blocks,
it’s not just a coincidence,
but another everyday thing
in a whole spectrum
of in-between colors
in in-between places.

–Laura Grimes