The poem The Planners echoes the sentiments expressed in The City Planners by Margaret Atwood. While Atwood objects to the soulless uniformity, Cheng find the unchecked expansion a source of annoyance. Cheng probably wrote his poem about Singapore, one of the most densely populated cities where every square inch is built up. In the name of expansion, history is erased and old buildings are brought down and their space taken up shiny new buildings which have a soul of glass and steel. Architects work with the same dexterity of dentists who extract old teeth and replace the gaps with gold teeth. It is as if all pain of loss has been removed by using anaesthesia or the people suffer from amnesia or have been hypnotised to feel no pain. The poet is the only one who feels the pain of loss but sarcastically, he says that he will let the blood of his poetry stain the blueprint of future buildings.
The main subject of the poem is the mindless expansion in a city. In the name of expansion and progress, historical sites are being damaged and meaningless bridged built that lead nowhere. There is mathematical precision but no grace. The authorities try to make it painless by giving anaesthesia in the form of incentives like and the citizens themselves suffer from amnesia.
The purpose of the poem is to rail against the senseless construction that goes on in cities in the name of progress and expansion, obliterating historical monuments and history itself. People seemed to be lulled into an amnesia-like torpor as the pain has been numbed by various incentives given by the authorities.
“Anaesthesia, amnesia, hypnosis.
They have the means.
They have it all so it will not hurt,”
The emotion is mainly anger at what is happening to the poet’s city. The city is expanding with meaningless bridges and roads that go nowhere being built at every turn. The history of the city is being destroyed. The poet sarcastically says that he will not ‘bleed’ poetry and blot tomorrow’s blue print that is being erected on the past.
Technique / Craftsmanship
Cheng plunges headlong into the issue of uncontrolled development in his city. The pet uses several negatives “will not stop, will not hurt” to indicate that though he wishes otherwise, what happens is against his wishes.
The structure of the poem is simple. The first two stanzas are long, detailing what the planners do to his city and the last stanza that oozes sarcasm says the poet will bleed his poetry and let the blood of his verses stain their blueprint. The future of the city is being built on the past which is being razed to make way for tomorrow.
The diction is everyday words that have immediacy. This is no poet laureate creating poetry to mark an occasion but a common citizen railing against what they are doing to his beloved city.
They erase the flaws,
the blemishes of the past, knock off
useless blocks with dental dexterity.
For poetic effect, he uses alliteration like “dental dexterity, skies surrender, permutations of possibilities”.
There are several images like mathematics used to design bridges that hang just so, flaws in the construction being erased like a dentist exacting offending teeth to make a perfect smile and filling up gaps with gold teeth which are commonly seen in the east. The poet considers poetry his life-blood and he does not want to shed that and blot the blue print of the future. He realises that protesting is of no use because “They have the means.”
Movement / Rhyme
There is no formal rhyme scheme but alliteration is used in some places like “dental dexterity, skies surrender, permutations of possibilities”.
Figures of speech
The image on the dentist producing a perfect smile leads on to the images of “anaesthesia, amnesia, hypnosis” since they are all medically connected. With clinical precision, the planners go about their job.