Poetry Explorer- Classic Contemporary Poetry: Explained, CITY PLANNERS, by MARGARET ATWOOD

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Classic and Contemporary Poetry: Explained

CITY PLANNERS, by             Poet Analysis     Poet's Biography


"CITY PLANNERS" is a poem by Margaret Atwood, published in her 1970 collection "The Journals of Susanna Moodie." The poem satirizes the sterility and conformity of modern urban planning, contrasting it with the natural world and the beauty of the past.


In "CITY PLANNERS," Atwood describes a city that has been carefully planned and constructed, with "perfect rows of houses" and "asphalt driveways" laid out in a "neat grid." However, she suggests that this modern urban landscape is soulless and sterile, lacking the beauty and vitality of the natural world. The poem criticizes the narrow-mindedness and lack of creativity of those who designed this city, who "only see money in terms of yards of concrete."

Poetic Elements:

  • Imagery: Atwood uses vivid imagery to contrast the artificiality of the city with the beauty of the natural world, such as "the planted sanitary trees, assert/ levelness of surface like a rebuke/to the dent in our car door."
  • Metaphor: The poem uses metaphor to convey the suffocating nature of the city, comparing it to "a pathological liar, /lying in ponds, faking the currents /of the by-pass."
  • Structure: The poem consists of three stanzas, each with varying line lengths and no consistent rhyme scheme. This structure creates a sense of movement and progression, building to the final line which emphasizes the sterility and conformity of the city planners' vision.


In "CITY PLANNERS," Atwood satirizes the modern urban landscape, criticizing the soulless conformity of its design and contrasting it with the beauty and vitality of the natural world. Through vivid imagery and metaphor, she highlights the narrow-mindedness and lack of creativity of those who designed this city, emphasizing the dangers of a world where economic concerns overshadow all other considerations.

Poem Snippet:

"Only the young go to bed with good dreams, cities//are made by old men for the dying of things,//and people who don't mind driving to work/in cars, sealed over like jars of instant coffee."

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