28 Mar 2013

Analysis of The City Planners by Margaret Atwood and The Planners by Boey Kim Cheng


The Poems analysed are: The City Planners, Margaret Atwood and The Planners, Boey Kim Cheng. These are taken from the IGCSE Cambridge Poetry Anthology, but may be interesting for unseen poetry too.

Question Set
How do these poets use language and structure to get across their theme?

I wrote this in about half an hour. Both poems are very similar, and have the same topic - City Planning - as shown in their titles. Structurally, they are different though, and the tone differs in places. I've marked headings for each paragraph to show, roughly, what each one is about, with major areas in CAPS (see my post on STILTS as a way to compare poems)

This paragraph analyses: similarities in SUBJECT as shown in the title; similarities and differences in TONE, point of view or attitude of the poet / narrator; how Atwood's tone shifts quite noticeably and the effects of this on the reader.
Both poems use the word Planners in their titles and both deal with cities as their topic, focussing on the structures and organization of urban spaces. Kim Cheng uses the third person ‘they’ to create a sense of distance - of us and them, whereas Atwood uses the inclusive ‘we’, to suggest that this experience of cities is one that we can all relate to and share. Her attitude - and the narratorial tone of the poem - seems negative. She uses words like ‘offends us’, ‘discouraged’, ‘avoidance’, ‘sickness lingering’, including the semantic field of illness. These seem mostly quiet, and passive, but as the poem progresses, she shifts into a more violent tone, with ‘hysteria’, ‘bruise’, ‘vicious’, ‘capsized’, and ‘insane’.

How the TONE of the second poem is different to the first: 
In contrast, the language of the Planners seems to have a far more positive tone: ‘possibilities’ ‘desired’ ‘gleaming’. However, this is the planners’ view, which is not shared by the poet. He describes the planners’ vision using a rule of three, as ‘anaesthesia, amnesia, hypnosis’, which suggests control, numbness. Like Atwood’s poem, the second half of Cheng’s poem shifts into violent imagery: ‘hurt’ ‘bleed’ and ‘stain’ - to show that this ‘gleaming’ vision, when imposed by force, hurts.

STRUCTURAL Analysis THEME - IMAGERY - LANGUAGE TECHNIQUES
Atwood uses an irregular structure, which gives the effect that ideas, and flow, are forcibly cut short, as where she breaks the sentence ‘what offends us is / the sanities’. Cleanliness here seems almost antiseptic, or negative and the idea of perfect regulation in ‘sanities’ repeats in ‘sanitary’, ‘levelness’, ‘straight’, ‘pedantic rows’ and ‘rational whine’. There is an uncomfortable edge to this perfection. While the first stanza is full of the semantic field of regulation, and control, the second is rising ‘hysteria’, where even inanimate objects take on a ‘vicious’ tone. Pathetic fallacy puts ‘sickness lingering‘ in the garages, the ‘plastic hose‘ is ‘poised‘ like a snake. This neat, mundane, urban landscape is twisted into something sinister, as houses are personified with a ‘too-fixed stare‘.

Feelings, THEME, STRUCTURE, LANGUAGE TECHNIQUES and effects on the reader
Moving into the third stanza, the poem shifts into a metaphorical imagining of a future where houses capsize like glaciers and sink into the earth. There is no full-stop to give pause from ‘wide windows // give momentary access to’, as if the second stanza is just sliding into the third. The final three stanzas deal with the Planners themselves. They are portrayed as anonymous, faceless forces - ‘with the insane faces of political conspirators’, giving the feeling of secrecy, danger, but also madness. ‘Concealed’ ‘private’ and ‘blizzard’ suggest isolation, secrecy, and maybe even meaninglesness: as in ‘vanishing’, ‘transitoryness’ and ‘guessing’. They don’t know what they’re doing or why. The antithesis of ‘panic’ and ‘order’ shows that in this control, there is terror lurking.

Overall comparison: regular vs irregular STRUCTURE, and TONE (attitude towards and portrayal of planners)
The ideas in The Planners are very similar, and it too is irregular, though less obviously so than Atwood’s poem. The cutting here is less abrupt and violent, though most lines are end-stopped or punctuated, giving a tighter feeling of control than Atwood’s frequent enjambement over lines and line-breaks. ‘They’ seem faceless, powerful, focussed on the ‘new’ and ‘tomorrow’, in wiping out the old. They ‘erase’ with ‘dexterity’, which could suggest hiding, or removing in a negative sense - as suggested by words like ‘amnesia’. Yet the poet seems to have some admiration for their planning as he describes it with words like ‘grace’ and ‘gold’ and suggests they have control over the elements: ‘the sea draws back / and the skies surrender. This is a stainless, blank planning though, with no place for the unusual, quirky or individual and the poet mourns this, quietly when he says that his heart would not write ‘poetry’ for it (though this is ironic as he has, in fact, put it in a poem). Perhaps he is showing that he does not feel a sincere love for it in his heart.


Get more on how to analyse poetry here, get model essays by poet here or click here for Cambridge IGCSE only

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