Poetasting engineers

donegal ruinA few weeks ago we spent a long weekend in Dublin. Its a capital city on a small scale but well-endowed with world-class museums, galleries and civic grandeur with good victuals available nearly everywhere.  We are frequent visitors to Dublin and, for me, no visit would be complete without half-an-hour or so spent sitting in the National Library listening to recordings of Yeats’ poems being read out loud.  You can listen on-line by visiting the ‘Verse and Vision‘ exhibit at the National Library of Ireland website.  I find reading poetry really challenging but I enjoy listening to someone else reading it.

My link to John Updike’s poem ‘Ode to Entropy‘ in my post entitled ‘Cosmic Heat Death‘ didn’t work – sorry about that!  It is reproduced in full on Clutterbuck.  I made another mistake last week and unintentionally published two posts, which perhaps reduced the impact of my request for ‘Good reads for budding engineers‘.  I have had no responses yet…

Staying with poetry.  Engineers appear to have a poor reputation for writing poetry.  Hilary Mantel in her short story ‘How shall I know you‘ describes reading clubs founded ‘by master drapers and their shop-girl wives; by poetasting engineers, and uxorious physicians with long winter evenings to pass.‘  Poetasting means writing indifferent verse.  Admittedly writing good poetry is not part of the role of an engineer but writing clear and concise prose is an essential skill.  Unfortunately most young engineers and many older colleagues are the prose equivalent of poetasters –  they write terribly turgid text.  Our inability to communicate in sparkling prose means that our profession appears uninspiring to potential recruits and remains hidden and obscure to most of society.  Climate change, poor air quality, autonomous machines and ubiquitous big data  are amongst the many challenges facing society for which we need engineering and science-literate citizens and lawmakers.  The responsibility for educating society lies with engineers who understand the technology and must strive to communicate more effectively [see my post entitled the ‘Charismatic Engineer‘ on June 4th, 2014].

Source: Hilary Mantel, ‘Assassination of Margaret Thatcher’ Henry Holt & Co, New York, September 2014.

Photo credit: Tom

7 thoughts on “Poetasting engineers

  1. Hopcroft, Francis


    Here are two suggestions for your library project – the first from one of my freshman students and the other from me.

    Pilot’s Handbook of Aeronautical Knowledge” written by the FAA

    Any and all books by Henry Petroski, such as Design Paradigms, Case Histories of Error in Judgment in Engineering, Cambridge University Press, 1994

    Hope this helps a little.

    Jerry Hopcroft

    Prof. Francis J. Hopcroft
    Department of Civil Engineering and Technology
    Wentworth Institute of Technology
    550 Huntington Avenue
    Boston, MA 02115


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