Margaret Atwood-The City Planners-Notes

Margaret Atwood –‘The City Planners’

Giving a lecture at the 1995 Hay-on-Wye Literature Festival, Margaret Atwood described how she first became a poet; she was still at high school in Canada, where she was born in 1939; becoming a poet, she seems to imply, was something that simply happened to her, almost without her being aware of it:

“The day I became a poet was a sunny day of no particular ominousness. I was walking across the football field, not because I was sports-minded or had plans to smoke a cigarette behind the field house – the only other reason for going there – but because this was my normal way home from school. I was scuttling along in my usual furtive way, suspecting no ill, when a large invisible thumb descended from the sky and pressed down on the top of my head. A poem formed.” (

In ‘The City Planners’, the speaker is similarly driving fairly aimlessly through the residential suburbs of a modern city, and becomes aware of how dull and the same everything is (look for instance at lines 3-8, or lines13-16); why, do you think, she finds such sameness so very unpleasing? There is no obvious hint in the regular and carefully planned houses and streets of the huge and potentially destructive power of nature, which will – one day – return this suburb into “the clay seas”; however, the speaker does feel some clear unease at certain aspects of the housing estate – which lines best suggest this unease? The city planners, safe in their offices, appear blind to this, and indeed to each other, hiding from the truth by trying to cover it with strict plans and enforced order.

Some points for classroom discussion

Where are the human beings in this suburb? Why is everything so eerily quiet? Why does the poem end with the strangely contradictory but very powerful words “the panic of suburb” and “a bland madness”?

Suggested comparison

Boey Kim Cheng – ‘The Planners’.

There are several useful websites, including:


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