‘The Planners’ by Boey Kim Cheng – what is it about? The poem explores the rapid development and expansion of big cities – to the point where even a few years later, they can feel totally unfamiliar and like everything has changed. Kim Cheng uses the poem to critcise the erosion of culture in Singapore. Here’s a breakdown of the poem, speicifcally for those studying the planners for CAIE / Cambridge exams. 

This post gives you an insight into the core ideas of the poem, you can purchase a full study guide below to get a more detailed analysis – including tasks, exercises and essay questions.

VOCABULARY

  • Permutations – A mathematical strategy for determining the number of alternative arrangements in a set. In a more general way, the word refers to various different versions of something
  • Flaw – A mistake, or shortcoming, particularly one that occurs while something is planned or constructed.
  • Dexterity – The ability to do things with skill or elegance, particularly when utilizing your hands and body.
  • Gleaming – Putting forth light and brightness.
  • Anaesthesia – A condition in which one experiences a momentary and regulated loss of feeling or consciousness. veterinary and medical fields use it during surgery
  • Amnesia – A condition in which one loses memories, including events, knowledge, and facts
  • Hypnosis – A state of mind, similar to slumber, in which a person’s ideas are more susceptible to being swayed by another person’s views
  • Piling – The process of drilling foundations through the ground (often using wood, concrete or steel) to provide more structural strength to the weak soil underneath
  • Blueprint – A drawing on a blue background that details a strategy of how to carry out a task or create a product

 

STORY/SUMMARY

They plan. They build.  Different types of possibilities are grinding and filling all spaces. The buildings are in alignment with the roads, which meet at desired points linked by bridges, all hanging in the grace of mathematics. They build and will not stop. Even the sea draws back and the skies surrender.

They erase the flaws, the blemishes of the past, knock off useless blocks with tooth-like dexterity. All gaps are plugged with gleaming gold. The country wears perfect rows of shining teeth. Anaesthesia, amnesia, hypnosis. They have the means. They have it all so it will not hurt, so history is new again. The pilling won’t stop. The drilling goes right through the fossils of last century.

But my heart wouldn’t bleed poetry. Not a single drop to stain the blueprint of our past’s tomorrow.

 

SPEAKER/VOICE

The speaker in the poem is a resident of a large city (Singapore). He speaks to the reader about the fast-paced, ever-developing world in which he lives. He describes the work that city planners do in detail and how it affects the lives of people in the city. He gives the impression that he sometimes feels like he is the only one who really understands the overarching mechanisms of the city, the way the planners changed and developed it. In the end, he says that his heart ‘would not bleed poetry’ for the city. This is a suggestion that the place in which he lives numbed and somewhat paralysed him, that he struggles to emotionally invest in it because it is always new and ever-changing.

The speaker recounts how those in charge of a country’s growth construct meticulously planned structures until every square inch of land is carefully plotted out and every possible arrangement is considered. Every structure is aligned precisely along a street, and the streets are constructed to intersect at precise points. Precisely designed bridges connect all these roads and structures. The urban planners keep on building. In the meantime, the speaker explains that the ocean retreats from the beach and the sky give up entirely – nature is receding to make way for the progress of mankind. 

Read the poem here; https://genius.com/Boey-kim-cheng-the-planners-annotated

As the speaker continues, these individuals eliminate all history’s imperfections, eradicating these imperfections with the precision of a dentist pulling teeth. They replace the voids with gleaming, luxurious new structures, giving the country the appearance of a perfect grin. The speaker compares gleaming perfection to being medicated into numbness, losing one’s memory, or being hypnotized. He adds that the people responsible for designing the country have the resources to facilitate this transition of buildings so painlessly that the citizens will feel like as if the past never existed. This development destroys the remnants of what formerly existed on this land. The speaker says all of this progress may appear flawless and gleaming, but it lacks the soul, beauty and art that would allow him to write poetry about it.

 

Thanks for reading! You can buy our detailed study guide here if you’re studying this particular poem. 

This includes:

  • Vocabulary
  • Story + Summary
  • Speaker + Voice
  • Language Feature Analysis
  • Form and Structure Analysis
  • Context
  • Attitudes + Messages
  • Themes + Deeper Ideas
  • Key Quotations
  • Extra tasks / possible essay questions