In ‘Pretty Ugly’ Abdullah Shoaib explores themes of self-worth, beauty, ugliness, and confidence. The poet addresses these themes from two different perspectives, conveying how one person might think differently about themselves or how two different people are more or less confident. The fact that there is no specific speaker in this poem, just an unknown person using first-person pronouns, makes this piece quite relatable. Anyone who approaches it can place themselves in the speaker’s shoes.
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Summary of Pretty Ugly
If read from top to bottom this piece expresses a speaker’s belief that they are too ugly to find love or happiness. They don’t believe that any beauty inside of them is worth anything. If read from bottom to top, the exact opposite is true. The speaker knows they are beautiful and no one can tell them anything different.
You can read the full poem Pretty Ugly here.
Structure of Pretty Ugly
‘Pretty Ugly’ by Abdullah Shoaib is a seventeen line poem that is contained within a single stanza of text. The lines of this poem do not follow a specific rhyme scheme or metrical pattern. They are written in a style known as free verse.
This poem is best known for one specific characteristic, the ability a reader has to consider the lines from top to bottom or from bottom to top. No matter which way a reader decides to approach ‘Pretty Ugly’ the poem is coherent. The meanings though are very different. From top to bottom there is a very different approach to self-worth and self-love than there is if one starts with line seventeen and ends with line one.
Literary Devices in Pretty Ugly
Shoaib makes use of several poetic techniques in Pretty Ugly. These include but are not limited to alliteration, enjambment, and anaphora. The latter, anaphora, is the repetition of a word or phrase at the beginning of multiple lines, usually in succession. This technique is often used to create emphasis. A list of phrases, items, or actions may be created through its implementation. In the case of ‘Pretty Ugly,’ the word “I” starts several lines. This helps keep the poem on-topic but is not so exclusionary that a reader will be unable to relate.
Alliteration occurs when words are used in succession, or at least appear close together, and begin with the same sound. For example, “believe” and “Beauty” in lines fourteen and fifteen and “myself” and “mirror” in lines six and seven.
Another important technique commonly used in poetry is enjambment. It occurs when a line is cut off before its natural stopping point. Enjambment forces a reader down to the next line, and the next, quickly. One has to move forward in order to comfortably resolve a phrase or sentence. This technique is used throughout ‘Pretty Ugly’ and is one of the techniques that allows the poem to be read from bottom to top. Examples can be seen in the transition between lines two and three and six and seven if reading from top to bottom. If a reader approaches this piece from bottom to top examples can be found in the transition between lines sixteen and fifteen and eleven and ten.
Analysis of Pretty Ugly
I’m very ugly
So don’t try to convince me that
I hate myself in every single way
In the first lines of ‘Pretty Ugly’ the speaker makes a sudden and direct statement about themselves. They say that they are “very ugly” and that there is nothing that anyone can do to convince them that this is not the case. They continue to say that they hate themselves “in every single way” by the end of the day. There is an example of alliteration in these lines, no matter which way you read them, with “beautiful” and “Because”.
If you are reading this poem from the bottom to the top the experience is very different. These lines conclude the poem by informing the reader that there is nothing anyone can do to convince the speaker that they aren’t “a very beautiful person”. No one could convince them that they are ugly.
And I’m not going to lie to myself by saying
There is beauty inside of me that matters
I deserve love
In the next lines, the speaker says that they aren’t going to lie to themselves by spending time thinking about the “beauty inside” as all that matters. This speaker, when reading from top to bottom, cares a great deal about other people’s opinions of their beauty. That is what really matters to them. There is a good example of enjambment in the transition between lines six and seven.
If reading the text from bottom to top, these lines tell the reader that the speaker knows they “deserve love” and that they know that the beauty inside does matter. Nothing anyone says will make them believe that they are a “worthless, terrible person”.
Because no matter what
I am not good enough to be loved
Am I as ugly as people say?
In the final lines of ‘Pretty Ugly,’ the speaker confesses their belief that they aren’t “good enough to be loved”. There is no hope for them. They’re always going to look in the mirror and think “Am I as ugly as people say?” This is terribly sad and impactful conclusion to the poem and the perfect time to flip the script and read it from the bottom to the top.
If starting from line seventeen, this section begins the poem. The speaker considers the question “Am I as ugly as people say?” and determines that anything anyone says does not matter. They know they have a value all their own.