What are some poetic devices used in Margaret Atwood's poem "The City Planners"?

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vangoghfan | College Teacher | (Level 2) Educator Emeritus

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Margaret Atwood’s poem “The City Planners” uses a variety of poetic devices to achieve poetic effectiveness.  The first two lines, for instance, open with a very heavily emphasized verb in which the first syllable (rather the second, as might have been expected) is strongly stressed. After all, the rest of the line is in perfect iambic meter: these RES i DEN tial SUN day.  These two lines also offer a good deal of alliteration (repetition of consonant sounds) involving the letter “s”:

Cruising these residential Sunday
streets in dry August sunlight. . .

More alliteration, also on the letter “s” and then also on the letters “p” and “l” as well, appears in the next several lines, the last of which includes a simile (a comparison involving “like” or “as):

what offends us is
the sanities:
the houses in pedantic rows, the planted 
sanitary trees, assert
levelness of surface like a rebuke  (3-7)

Atwood later uses personification when the speaker refers to “the discouraged grass” (12), while there is a hint of onomatopoeia (in which words sound like the things they describe) in the word “whine” in line 11. Later, the speaker uses metaphor (implied comparsion, not involving “like” or “as”) to compare a plastic hose to a dangerous snake (21-22), while assonance (similarity of vowel sounds) appears in the short “a” sounds of “cracks” and “plaster” in line 25.

Meanwhile, metaphors, alliteration, and assonance all appear in lines 26-28:

when the houses, capsized, [metaphor] will slide
obliquely into the clay seas, gradual as glaciers
that right now nobody notices.

Rhyme is not used in this poem, nor is there any obvious structure of stanzas. Perhaps Atwood avoids these signs of regularity and repetition so that her own poem will not seem as monotonous and predictable as the neighborhood the poem describes.

In any case, like most effective poems, Atwood’s work combines a variety of poetic devices, especially those of sound, thus giving the poem an interest and vividness it would otherwise lack.