Planners and Continuum - Sample Essay

“The City Planners” by Margaret Atwood is a poem about her distaste for the obsessive regularity and perfection of the city. Atwood opens the poem with vivid exposition of time and place as she “cruis[es] these residential Sunday streets in dry August. This effectively creates a sense of place and set the tone of the poem. Atwood uses the verb “cruising” which juxtaposes strongly with the obsessively clean and fake suburbia landscape that she is driving through.

The constant use of juxtaposition is very effective as it creates a stark contrast between the ordered and suppressing city and the disordered and creative driver in the car. “The City Planners” is written with no set stanza length and no set rhyme, which usually represents disorder and chaos. This could represent how on the surface, suburbia seems that it is perfect, but under the surface, it is unnatural and obsessive. This is case with “Continuum” by Allen Curnow. This poem has no rhyme, but in comparison to “The City Planners”, it has a weirdly regular form as it is written in syllabic tercets.

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This obsessive precision and order seems to replicate the apparent perfection in suburbia. “Continuum” is a poem about the process of writing a poem and the constant duel between two identities, one that is writing poetically and one that is precise and ordered. From the outset of the poem, he makes it clear that the narrator cannot be trusted as he contradicts himself in a suspension of disbelief, “the moon rolls over the roof and falls behind my house, and the moon does neither of these things”.

He begins with a metaphor, which he then rejects. The author then reveals that he has can’t get to sleep and one assumes that he has too many thoughts in his head, but then he states “nor to think thoughts” which deliberately misleads the reader. The speaker is then visualised as an onlooker of nature. As he stands at the porch he beholds an objective view of himself, as he discerns “across the privets/and the palms a ”washed out creation”. Allen Curnow is very frustrated with his writing.

He states that “a long moment stretches, the next one is not / on time” which shoes that time is relative. This line is also mimetic as the break shows that the “next one” is literally not on time. Curnow also judges his own poetry as being too poetic. Curnow was unsure of the verb “dusted” because it was too dramatic. This is perhaps why he puts “query” in parenthesis as he was unsure of its affectivity. In the last stanzas, he states that the door closes and the poet’s alter-ego “picks up [the] litter and paces [him] back to bed, stealthily in step”.

This shows that his other identity gives order to the otherwise chaotic poetry that had been written that night. In “The City Planners”, Atwood uses strong verbs, such as rebuke, to show the differences between the narrator and his surroundings. “The dent in [their] car door” shows that they are not as perfect as their surroundings and consequently they do not fit, so much that they are “rebuked”. Atwood also shows how the planners try to control nature and even the trees are “sanitary”, which creates an odd image of medical cleanliness.

The grass is personified as being “discouraged” which shows the arrogance of the planners who are suppressing nature. The plastic hose is personified as being in a “vicious coil” like a threatening snake, which suggests that it is being constrained in a coil to prevent it from unravelling and attacking the lawn. Difference is also portrayed as a sickness and even a small detail that is disordered is as painful as a “bruise”. In the last three stanzas, Atwood directly addresses the City Planners .

Atwood talks of how these City Planners, who are so full of themselves, think that all of their suburban creations will make the world better. Atwood disagrees, implying that modern suburbia will be “future cracks in the plaster”. However, this symbolism of perfection will eventually collapse and the effort of the city planners will come to nothing, just like “vanishing air in the madness of snows”, further implication that the planners are disorientated and confused.

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