The City Planners

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The City Planners, Margaret Atwood

In this poem, the poet attacks the sterile uniformity of residential suburbs. Notice that she never mentions people. ‘What offends us is the sanities’ Sanity is defined as being reasonable and of sound mind; she is referring to ‘pedantic houses’, sanitary trees’ and things that she considers to be overly controlled or constructed. She does not approve.

In stanza 2, she lists ‘certain things’ that give momentary access to the landscape…’ The images she provides have the effect of disturbing the order: ‘a splash of paint’ ‘the dent in our car door’ ‘the future cracks in the plaster…’

Stanza 3 anticipates the effects of destructive power of nature ‘houses slide obliquely into clay seas’ and suggests that man is arrogant: ‘right now nobody notices.’ The last few words describe ‘The City Planners’ as having ‘insane faces’

The final stanzas describe the futility of planning ‘guessing directions’ and transitory lines’ (lines that will change). Those responsible are described as remote figures unaware of each other ‘each in their own private blizzard.’ The ‘blizzard’ is an extended metaphor (an idea which recurs throughout the poem).

The poet’s unusual use of imagery is sarcastic as she is describing the most interesting aspects of suburbia and they are in fact dull. This forces the reader to look at ordinary, boring objects in a different way; to examine suburbia from a different perspective. Notable images include ‘houses in pedantic rows’ ‘sanitary trees’ and ‘discouraged grass’ giving the reader an image of suburbia that is overly ordered and suffocating nature The ‘plastic hose’ in stanza 2 represents a snake (nature) which is ‘poised in a vicious coil’ suggesting that nature will rebel and is waiting to attack.

The writer’s diction often raises questions about madness and what it means. ‘sanities’ ‘Insane’ ‘madness’ and ‘hysteria’ Other examples of diction include ‘shatter’ and ‘whine’...
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