The Planners – Boey Kim Cheng


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.

Main Subject

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.

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8 thoughts on “The Planners – Boey Kim Cheng

  1. The Planner
    – Boey Kim Cheng

    ‘The Planners’ is a poem composed by poet Boey Kim Cheng. In this poem, he has reveled his discomfort towards urbanization of his native land Singapore. In 1997, he self exiled himself from Singapore as he deeply felt that ongoing urbanization and sanity was simply senseless. He supports the idea of being non-uniform and naturally imperfect. He has criticized the précised and perfect planning of the planners throughout the poem. He firmly opposes their idea of controlling and correcting the flaws of the nature. He states that the planners are very selfish and mechanical. The poem is closely linked with ‘The City Planners’ composed by Margaret Atwood. As of the poets share their hatred towards perfection and sanity.

    At the very first line, he opposes planners by using the pronoun ‘they’ which clearly states his disapproval to their planning. He then briefs about their precise and the perfect alignment of roads. Poet mocks them by commenting ‘In grace of mathematics’ which offends the planners as mathematics is defined as precision and not grace. He describes the nature’s helpless state due to urbanization in the first paragraph by saying ‘Even the seas draws back and skies surrender’ stating the nature has drawn back there fight against urbanization .In the second paragraph, He details about their precise and skilled mechanical and un-human drilling of the nature to erase flaws, which posses beauty of imperfection. He then says that planners are obstinate and wont stop superfluous act of urbanization. He concludes by finally down hearting as he states that it is pointless to regret, as the future is going to resemble past.

    The structure of the poem is varied, with a free verse structure to emphasis on beauty of imperfection as he starts with long lines, followed with shorter ones. He has focused on pronouns ‘They’ to show dissimilarity in between their mindsets, For example ‘They plan, They build’ he is conveying that he is unlike them. He has tried to vary the pace of the poem by using short and quick caesuras followed by long and slow Enjambments, again to emphasis on non-uniformity. There is dominance of harsh consonance to second his theme of offending and opposing the planners with words like drilling.

    Poet has highlighted implementation of mocking and sarcasm, to act biased on the topic and giving a humorous tone to the poem. The personification of sky and sea as the victims of the ruthless urbanization clearly revels their helpless condition. He mocks them by using of word like Dexterity to make fun of their skilled and pitch perfect work. The uses of words like gridded directs how unspontaneous the planners are.

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