Pale Blue Cover

In the middle of the night Matt would fly to Vancouver so he could take a walk on the sea wall the next day, then go home.

Wouldnt tell anyone, no telephone call, just run a scene through his peculiar Ontario head, no snow on that beach.

No one can imagine Matt teaching religion at McMaster, Matt eyeing math in a Bay Street shop window.

Here’s the man expecting every book to be the breakthrough to best seller Toronto, Spanish doctors couldn’t even do it.

English patients could do it, Spanish doctors, get out of town. Spanish girls, you can forget it.

Matt was planning to write a hundred novels, line them up like matched jewelry, strike a shovel into the heart of bony Canada.

Mix a metaphor, wrestle a fish in a northern river, propel prose like nobody’s business, business had nothing to do with it.

In the middle of the day Cohen was a wry anglo saxon typing on a rocky farm, two thousand words before supper.

Remain wry, people like me catch you lost in thought down there at the other end of the table, face turned to the corner with imagination in it.

We remind ourselves of this undreamable sephardic rock agriculturalist, shovel bouncing off some kind of precambrian anapest.

He really thought he could get across Canada, get over the twentieth century, pick the whole country up and turn it over.

No one will ever know what he was thinking on the red-eye, patriot satyr grin on his lip.

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  1. This poem appears in an anthology called Changing on the Fly: The Best Lyric Poems of George Bowering. The term "lyric" refers to a short poem in which the poet, the poet's persona, or another speaker expresses personal feelings. How would you describe the speaker's feelings toward Matt?
  2. This poem is about Canadian author Matt Cohen. What can you glean from the speaker's description about Matt's personality? And who he was as a writer?
  3. The word "Canada" appears twice in the poem. Which other clues does the speaker offer which indicate that Matt is based in Canada?
  4. What might be the meaning behind the poem's title, "Pale Blue Cover"?
  5. This poem consists of 12 long sentences. If you were to recite this poem, you would need to think about when you would breathe. In addition to pausing where there are commas, would you attempt to read the poem with only taking a breath at the end of each line? Or after a certain number of syllables?
  6. Writing activity: George Bowering mentions several, specific locations in this nostalgic poem written in free verse. Write a free verse (non-rhyming) poem in which you share your nostalgia for a person, place, or object. Make sure to refer to significant, specific places in your poem as well.


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Listen to George Bowering read "Pale Blue Cover"


Matt Cohen wrote children's books published under the pseudonym, Teddy Jam, for more than a decade. Read The Globe and Mail article "The Sweet Second Life of Matt Cohen" to learn more about his writing for young people:

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Bibliographical info

George Bowering, “Pale Blue Cover” from Changing on the Fly. Reprinted by permission of the author.

Source: Changing on the Fly (Polestar Book Publishers / Raincoast Books, 2004).

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