Throughout this piece, the poet uses fairly simple language, syntax, and diction in order to convey his speaker’s opinion about the “planners” and the constant development they do. Although the speaker may have a very specific city and country in mind, this poem is likely going to connect to many different readers from around the world, who have seen their hometowns and countries changing, perhaps not for the better.
Explore The Planners
‘The Planners’ by Boey Kim Cheng is an effective poem about the impact of industrialization and development.
The speaker spends the three stanzas of this free verse poem addressing the impact that the “planners” have on the world around him and others. He suggests that the constant desire to build a new, better city is detrimental to one’s understanding of the past. At the end of the poem, the speaker discusses how as a poet, the new world that’s been created around him is entirely uninspiring. His poet’s heart is not going to bleed for these sites, sounds, and lack of history that surrounds him (or that he believes is going to surround him as things change in the future).
You can read the full poem here.
They plan. They build. All spaces are gridded,
and the skies surrender.
The speaker begins with three short statements about the nature of the “planners.” Their job is fairly simple, they “plan,” “build,” and focus on making spaces that are “gridded.” The planners create spaces that are filled with possibility. A variety of outcomes can be interpreted from what they’re creating around the speaker. They create buildings that line up with roads that link with bridges. All of this is created from the “grace of mathematics.”
At this point, it feels as though the speaker is admiring the planner’s work and what they’re able to accomplish. But, the final line of the stanza suggests that the speaker sees these developments as problematic. He knows how, as the planners work, “the sea draws back / and the skies surrender.” Nature is altered in a dramatic way by their work.
They erase the flaws,
The drilling goes right through the fossils of last century.
The planners also work to “erase the flaws” and the “blemishes of the past.” As history has shown us, erasing the past is something that does no one any good. By demolishing what was and creating something new, the planners are removing the community’s immediate history. This is something that the speaker is incredibly skeptical about. It’s at this point that the speaker transitions into a very clever example of an extended metaphor.
The poet uses dental and teeth-related imagery to describe his progress. The gaps in the “mouth” of the city and country are plugged with “gleaming gold.” (This is also a good example of alliteration.)
Anything that the planners see as not up to par, shiny enough, or modern enough, it’s changed. Instead of embracing the past and all the faults and flaws of history, the country “wears perfect rows of shining teeth.”
The planners are powerful. The speaker suggests this through his description of their ability to “have it all so it will not hurt.” Again, this is how dentistry works. Changes are made without the subject being able to feel what’s happening. In the same way, the everyday citizens of this country are unaware of what they’re losing. Speaker can see through the façade that the planners put up.
The planner’s work becomes even more destructive than the last lines of this stanza. The speaker describes how they will not stop no matter what they have to drill through. He references the “fossils of last century.” Although this past is not ancient, it’s still meaningful. No one is given the option on whether or not to see what they knew over the last years lost or preserved.
But my heart would not bleed
of our past’s tomorrow.
The final stanza of the poem is only four lines long. This is also known as a quatrain. Although the speaker may have alluded to his disdainful interpretation of the planners were and the final lines, he suggests that he is, in fact, emotionless about all that’s being created. In this way, he tells readers that his heart is not going to be moved by what’s being created today, for tomorrow. No poetry is going to come from his heart in regard to the new buildings and future planning.
The progress that’s playing out in front of him is not going to inspire him. This suggests that the speaker, who may be the poet himself, is not the only one who’s going to feel this way. The speaker could be interpreted as a larger voice, a voice that is speaking for all the creative minds of the world. Without history and the seemingly unimportant fragments of the past, many writers, artists, and other creators will feel unmoved in their unique artistic practices.
Structure and Form
‘The Planners’ by Boey Kim Cheng is a three-stanza poem that is divided into one set of nine lines, one of ten lines, and another four-line stanza. The poem is written in free verse. This means that the poet does not make use of any set rhyme scheme or metrical pattern. The lines vary in length and in the end sounds used in the final words. But, this does not mean that the poem is entirely without structure.
Throughout this poem, the poet makes use of several literary devices. These include but are not limited to:
- Enjambment: occurs when the poet cuts off a line before its natural stopping point. For example, the transition between lines three and four of the first stanza as well as lines one, two, and three of the final stanza.
- Juxtaposition: can be seen when the poet contrasts different images. For example, he speaks about the small space his speaker occupies and the vastness of what’s being built around him.
- Alliteration: occurs when the poet repeats the same consonant sound at the beginning of multiple words. For example, “permutations” and “possibilities” in line two of the first stanza and “skies surrender” in the last line of the same stanza.
The tone is skeptical. The speaker describes the progress he sees playing out around him and suggests that it is doing more harm than good without ever directly saying so. In the final lines, he expresses, quite clearly and without emotion, that the new buildings, roads, bridges, and Moore are not going to inspire him to write or create in any form.
The purpose is to remind readers how important physical examples of the past are. As cities are raised in new ones built in their place, a great deal is lost. It is important for all people, not just creators like the speaker himself, that history are tangible and easy to access. No one benefits from seeing their countries history erased, even when new, bigger, and more advanced infrastructure is being created.
The speaker is unknown. They are someone who is skeptical of the increasing industrialization and development of the area surrounding their home. They regard progress as negative and express disdain for the “planners.”
The poet wrote this piece to express his opinion, or a craft persona’s opinion, on the increasing industrialization and development of cities and countries. The speaker may be a single person or an embodiment of a generalized view on development. Either way, many different readers are likely going to be able to relate to the speaker’s skepticism in regard to the new infrastructure going up around him.
Readers who enjoyed this piece should also consider reading some other Boey Kim Cheng poems. For example:
- ‘Reservist’ – describes the repetitive nature of war and the preparations that go into arming reserve soldiers and preparing them for battle.
Other related poems include:
- ‘The Bayan City’ by Vihang Naik – uses simple, image-rich language, and an extended metaphor to compare an old banyan tree to a city
- ‘The City’ by C. P. Cavafy – explores the notion that you cannot simply run away from your problems, you must face them head-on wherever you are in the world.
- ‘Inexpensive Progress’ by John Betjeman – acknowledges and speaks out against the way industrialism is removing humanity’s access to history and nature.