The City Planners & The Planners

Below is some additional information on the two poems written by Margaret Atwood and Kim Boey Cheng respectively, found on the internet:

“The City Planners” by Margaret Atwood and “The Planners” by Boey Kim Cheng

Many poets lament humanity’s soulless march toward technology and industrialization. Both “TCP” and “TP” reflect this sentiment. The poems are similar in ideas and tone, although Atwood’s is considerably more skilled and Cheng’s themes are more specific to his particular homeland.

“TCP” – themes of modernity pushing aside nature; loss of human/nature relationship; identity
Structure/Poetic Devices/Analysis
(Have students find devices for homework, but for analysis purposes the poetic devices worth noting consist mainly of just imagery, simile and metaphor although it is good to note that the free structure keeps the focus on the images and ideas. Atwood’s ironic/sarcastic/humourous tone is also an effective device for conveying her ideas)

  • –  Atwood’s poem is rich with irony (humour) and linguistic inventiveness/ fun with words. It is written in her trademark free verse style, with little structure or formality.
  • –  Her “us” is not a strong blank narrator because her situations are specific experiences and not general enough for all people to relate to. The poem also reflects her personal views, which are also too specific (“HS” and “TC” are stronger blank narrators because they are based in reaction and common crises, not specific experiences and opinions).
  • –  She grabs our attention with her unusual manner of description, her irony and her claim of being offended by normal life (the all-too-normal suburbanites)
  • –  “The houses in pedantic rows, the planted/sanitary trees” Atwood sees suburbia as dull and pedantic. She paints it not as the comfortable, safe existence that ‘normal people’ think it is, but like a boring, colourless situation. What other images clearly show her distain for suburbia?
  • –  The lawnmower is sarcastically described as the most interesting thing in suburbia – this signals a shift in the poem for the dramatic and judgmental, no longer just merely observational. Atwood talks of how these City Planners, who are so full of themselves, think they know best; that all of their suburban creations will make the world better. Atwood disagrees, implying that modern suburbia will be the apocalypse/death of humanity. She identifies flaws in suburbia/modernization that foreshadow this breakdown of humanity – can you find them?
  • –  Atwood’s ending is very hyperbolic, inferring that these self-absorbed and self-aggrandizing City Planners are just as empty and meaningless as the ‘burbs they pollute the world with.

    Consider: Is “TCP” a poem that shines with wit and brilliant phrasing, such as “bland madness”, or is it nothing more than a whiney rant, an exaggerated condemnation of something rather harmless?

  • –  Atwood can also be showing us how these modern, manmade ‘plans’ are a form of escapism. Modern Man is hiding behind his unnatural, overly-organized environments so he does not have to fell he is not always in control (“HS”).
  • –  Atwood can also be showing, in her comment about the Planners, that Man thinks what he does in important, but it is not and it will not last – that Planners who seek to control and mould nature are fighting an uphill battle that nature will always win (outlast).

    Consider: What words would you use to describe the tone of this poem? Prove with text.

    “TP” — themes of modernity pushing aside nature; loss of human/nature relationship; identity

Structure/Poetic Devices/Analysis
(Have students find devices for homework to show engagement, but the main devices worth noting, like “TCP” are imagery. Note that the metaphors are often mixed – terrible – and the imagery is hyperbolic and clumsy. Let’s focus on the message, not the bad poetry.)

  • –  Atwood’s “TCP” is insular and only deals with her personal hatred/views regarding the suburbs (and how they represent the epitome of unhealthy technological advancement/ industrialization/dehumanization/moving away from the ‘natural way’…) however, Cheng’s poem has a broader scope: he reflects on not just his personal \pet peeve’, but on his home nation’s apparently soulless route of progress.
  • –  Cheng begins with observation/ description of modern Singapore. He talks about how everything is decided, planned, made with precision – modern Singapore has none of the vagueness or irregularity of nature, “Even the seas draw back/ and the skies surrender” is hyperbole – the Planners have planned everything so exactly that even nature seems to bend to their will/plan. The idea that everything natural is gone and only the perfection of mathematics remains. Can you find more examples of this Singaporean ‘perfection’?
  • –  The second stanza is also in many ways descriptive, but here for the first time the poem is also meaningful. Like Atwood, Cheng does not like the blind stomp toward technology and away from nature – although he focuses his criticism on Singapore instead of the concept of modern suburbia. Both could be described as anti- modernist.
  • –  Singapore used to be a colony and now it wants to redefine itself on its own terms. It chooses to do so, says Cheng, by being a defiantly modern, scientific, unsentimental nation. Cheng’s description is dramatic – he writes of “history” being “new again”, and being blasted away by the drills. This can be seen as an overly simplistic analysis of Singapore.
  • –  Cheng goes so far as to make Singapore seem like a scary, inhuman state now (examples?) and says that “But my heart would not bleed/poetry” implying that art/poetry and modern Singapore cannot exist at the same time/in the same place. *groan* NB: he wrote this after moving to Australia. He fears the Planners damage both the past and future by ignoring M/N relationship, ignoring nature in general and through their arrogance (believing themselves to be better than nature/beyond it/capable of creating perfection).

    Consider: Having read both “TCP” and “TP” now, who exactly do you think these Planners are? Can you think of job descriptions or real-life examples of these ‘people’?


  • –  Both poems revolve around the poet lamenting the move away from nature, toward technology /modernity and use poetic devices to emphasize this point: hyperbole, imagery, sarcasm, ironic humour.
  • –  Both poems are only one-sided opinions/declarations about life. They make damning judgments about society without looking at the other side of the coin/other perspective or offering any solutions. They are argumentative rather than evocative, ‘preachy’ rather than meditative.
  • –  Both lament a lack of M/N relationship (they portray a lack of N in life as harmful – how?)
  • –  Both can be said to also be about identity, in that these poets build part of their identity on the fact that they disagree so strongly with the Planners (both set themselves apart from ‘them’/ ‘the bad/misguided Planners’). Consider: What words would you use to describe the tone of this poem? Prove with text.

6 thoughts on “The City Planners & The Planners

  1. The City Planners
    By Margaret Atwood

    The poet Margaret Eleanor Atwood who happens to be a prolific novelist and
    A literary critic has written this poem about The City Planners. They are not just
    Any city planners they are the one who are brain washing human and are attempting
    To create a world so perfect by removing the imperfection of nature and by doing
    This they do not know they are bringing doom to themselves. The name itself is suggesting, the poem is about architects and a city and other aspects related to it.

    The first line of the poem “cruising these residential Sunday streets in dry August sunlight” this line gives us the impression that the atmosphere the poet is describing is very relaxing and calming. The word ‘cruising’ means traveling around without any particular direction and is combined with the alliterative ‘Sunday Streets’ and this starts to create an image in our mind of a weekend vacation and ‘dry August sunlight’ pauses the reader into further imagination of a perfect summer time in the suburbia.

    The next line ‘what offends us is the sanities’ comes as a jolt and the rest of the poem is Atwood’s criticism of the suburbia. She thinks suburbs are constructed without personality or originality. ‘Pedantic rows’ and ‘sanitary trees’ express the poet’s thoughts about suburbia which she describes as too clean, too tidy and organized, without expression of individuality and are about total perfection.

    The second stanza continues the idea of a predicament in suburbia and the apparent resemblance between stanza 1 and 2 is about the writer complaining about suburbian
    life and culture. This also suggests the change in idea in continuation with the 3rd stanza.
    The poet, Margaret Atwood’s the hot sky’ and this makes us think that all houses, people and cars are all the very same and do not have any we disposition of any kind. Some images that stand out for Attwood in suburbia are the offensive smell of oil which smells faintly like vomit and a splash of paint is compared to a bruise.

    The next part of the poem ends the complaints and then shows us the consequences of being so greed and flawless. And the writer tells us that by being flawless and by damaging and killing nature, nature itself will destroy us. This we see in the lines
    ”when the houses, capsized, will slide obliquely into the clay seas, gradual as glaciers
    that right now nobody notices”. In these lines the poetic techniques portray that no one in the suburbia sees the larger picture of their estates.

    The fourth stanza establishes new idea of the City planners and portrays the real estate agents to have power and or authority of the city. As they control the buying and selling of houses and they work to keep everyone happy including themselves.
    We see all this from the line 29-32, the ‘city planner’ who we presume to be are the real estate agents and this line tell us where they work and tells us where the agents work and how each house will be worked on in that area.

    The fifth stanza has more abstract ideas on blizzards (literal or metaphorical meaning, both can be used for interpretation) which contrast with the first 3 stanza’s in which there are more concrete ideas and are closed to only one interpretations of one single meaning.
    In line 34 the diction used describes a flourishing market and refers back to the real estate agents. Line 35 then abstractly describes the wooden boards “rigid as wooden boards”.
    Lines 37 uses diction to indicate future problems and chaos in the real estate industry, and in continuation to the 37th line 38 talks about a long term economical downfall in the real estate agency.

    The themes in the poems are nature vs man, blizzards and snows are used as extended metaphors for the blindness and confusions of a city to the tasteless customs the city itself comprises off.

    By- Jaden Silverstein

  2. Hi there, please note that the family name of Boey Kim Cheng is actually Boey. His given name is Kim Cheng. Unlike the western names, oriental names have the surname/famiily name coming before the given name. So the poet should be addressed as Boey, not Cheng.

    1. Yes, thanks for this. I wondered if the publishers might have printed the name in the ‘english’ way. Three of those names can be last names!! Thank you for your point!

      1. I’ve really enjoyed the invigorating discussions by your students and the other visitors to your blog. Keep it up, Julia; and thanks for taking the time to do so!!

  3. thnx a million for the above. am currently analysing the poem with my students and it has been quite eye opening. many thanks

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