In “The City Planners” by Margaret Atwood and “The Planners” by Boey Kim Cheng, both poets build on the theme of not only sameness but the blandness of modern urban or suburban living which insulates man from the randomness and challenges of living in daily contact with the natural world. Each poet uses their own unique way to express these themes. In “The City Planners” Atwood employs strong imagery such as “the houses in pedantic rows” while in “The Planners” Boey adopts an extended metaphor on mathematics and applied sciences.
The poet of “The City Planners”, Margaret Atwood was born and raised in the city of Ottawa, Canada. She was born in 1939 and therefore has seen the development of the city. Atwood finds the identical houses of suburbia offending to the eye. There is absolutely nothing unique to the houses and they all look similar. Boey Kim Cheng, the poet of “The Planners” however, was born in 1965 and grew up in Singapore, a place of rapid development. Boey uses plenty of extended metaphors to express his opinions on the creations of the “Planners”.
Both title elements of the poems contain the definitive article “The”. This word suggests importance and a solitary, power group which controls everything. The group then directs us to believe that the poems are going to be about sameness and uncreativeness. This point is consolidated by the element “Planners”. This suggests control, organization and forward thinking again linking to the main themes and ideas.
Atwood beings the poem with two long stanzas, moving on to brief stanzas which foretell the future that could befall the housing estates. The regular structure also reinforces the idea of sameness and the blandness of the “City Planners” as they attempt to control nature and make everything “perfect”. Boey Kim Cheng also adopts a similar structure, with the first stanza being nine lines, second being fourteen and the third being four. This again strengthens the general themes and ideas of the two poems, of the “Planners” who control and create everything.
The linguistic and structural devices in both poems are used to good effect to discuss the theme of sameness and the blandness of suburban living. In “The City Planners”, the use of the personification and simile “the planted sanitary trees, assert … like a rebuke to the dent in our car door” makes the reader feel uncomfortable and intimidated, as if she does not meet up to the standards, something for which the “planted sanitary trees” seem to disapprove of. Not only is the suburban environment perfect in appearance but the people living in the suburb are perfect as shown in “No shouting here, or shattering of glass”.
In “The Planners” however, Boey Kim Cheng adopts the extended metaphor on mathematics and applied sciences. He describes that “spaces are gridded, filled with permutations of possibilities”. “Permutation” suggests the huge possibilities of the city and the advanced thinking of “The Planners”. “Bridges all hang in the grace of mathematics”. This suggests perfect parabolic suspensions (e.g. the suspensions on a suspension bridge). Boey also uses the extended metaphor on medical sciences (in this case dentistry and a surgeon).
The quote “knock off useless blocks with dental dexterity” suggests the “Planners” fixing up the city like a perfect set of teeth. “The country wears perfect rows” reinforces this statement as a perfect set of teeth is almost like a perfect row. This is a surreal quality individuality is “plugged”. “The Planners” see comfort in sameness.
Margaret Atwood and Boey Kim Cheng both use language to successfully help convey their ideas of suburban sameness and blandness. In line 6 of “The City Planners”, Atwood calls the trees “sanitary”. In a suburban world which is sanitized, germ free, free of challenge and disease; the things which normally “offend” us. In the suburbs we shelter from the randomness of nature and therefore cut ourselves off from the energy of life at the same time. “The rational whine of a power mower” is used to suggest that people who use the power mower themselves are rational, as they want to tidy up nature. Neat, almost perfect stripes on the lawn are seen, “cutting a straight swath in the discouraged grass”.
At the same time slowing down the untidy energy and richness of nature, cutting ourselves off from it, hence “discouraged” grass. In Lines 15-16 the roofs are described as “display(ing) the same slant of avoidance to the hot sky”. They have all been built according to the same city plan, where there is no variance in the blueprint. The roofs are set at the same angle so they keep the heat at bay, protecting the “inmates” from the “dry August sunlight”.
In lines 8 and 9 of “The Planners”, the sea and sky is seen to “surrender” to mans industrialized actions. Even they cannot withstand with mans progress. “Gleaming Gold” is also used to signify how the “Planners” see their buildings as beautiful and precious (has value).
In conclusion, each text uses different poetic strategies and techniques and uses them in a different way to help establish the sameness and blandness of modern urbanization which keep us from the challenges of living in daily contact with the natural world. “The City Planners” relies on strong imagery to convey this point, while “The Planners” uses extended metaphors on applied sciences and mathematics to communicate the themes and ideas.
– by w.s (NZ)