Within ‘Not my Best Side’ Fanthorpe delves into themes of humour, story-telling, and individual perspectives. The tone varies throughout, but it is always quick, funny, and detailed. Fanthorpe is able to create a lighthearted, joyful, and surprising.
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Summary of Not my Best Side
The poem starts from the perspective of the dragon. He knows he has to be slain, as that’s in the story, but he expresses his disappointment that this particular knight, with his strange horse, is going to be the one to do it. He’s also annoyed that he wasn’t painted better or more bloodied, as if dying dramatically. He goes on to speak ill of the woman he’s supposedly wanting to eat, calling her too ugly to be edible.
Next, the poet moves on to give the reader the woman’s perspective. Rather than feeling fear, she too is disappointed by the knight who’s come to save her. She’s actually enjoyed spending time with the dragon. She sexualizes him, speaking kindly and lustfully about his colourful scales.
Finally, the readers get to hear from the knight. Again, the poet puts forward a perceptive that is different than what is expected. Rather than valiant and brave, the knight comes across as self-absorbed and whiny. He becomes easily frustrated with the dragon’s lack of cooperation.
You can read the full poem here.
Structure of Not my Best Side
‘Not my Best Side’ U. A. Fanthorpe is a three-stanza poem that’s separated into sets of nineteen lines. These lines do not follow a specific rhyme scheme or metrical pattern. This means that they are written in free verse, a technique that allows a writer greater freedom. They are released from the confines of the meter and rhyme scheme, but that doesn’t mean those things don’t appear and influence the poem. For example, half-rhyme, (along with many other techniques), appears throughout ‘Not my Best Side’.
Half-rhyme, also known as slant or partial rhyme, is seen through the repetition of assonance or consonance. This means that either a vowel or consonant sound is reused within one line, or multiple lines of verse. For example, the use of the “r” consonant sound in line twelve of the first stanza, or “dying” and “rise” in lines sixteen and seventeen of the first stanza.
Poetic Techniques in Not my Best Side
Fanthorpe makes use of several other poetic techniques in ‘Not my Best Side’. These include juxtaposition, alliteration, enjambment, and caesura. The first, juxtaposition is when two contrasting things are placed near one another in order to emphasize that contrast. A poet usually does this in order to emphasize a larger theme of their text or make an important point about the differences between these two things. In the case of this poem, the dragon’s, woman’s, and knight’s points of view are contrasted with one another. The first two speakers have a comically different opinion about the knight than he does about himself.
Alliteration occurs when words are used in succession, or at least appear close together, and begin with the same letter. For example, “horse” and “honest” in line eleven of the second stanza and “beaten” and “boy” in line eighteen of that same stanza.
Enjambment and Caesura
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. There are several examples within this poem, such as the transitions between lines one and two of the third stanza and eighteen and nineteen of the third stanza.
Finally, there are examples of caesura. It occurs when a line is split in half, sometimes with punctuation, sometimes not. The use of punctuation in these moments creates a very intentional pause in the text. A reader should consider how the pause influences the rhythm of one’s reading and how it might proceed an important turn or transition in the text. For instance, the final line of the poem “You want? You’re in my way” or line three of the second stanza that reads: “Took to the dragon. It’s nice to be”.
Analysis of Not my Best Side
In the first lines of ‘Not my Best Side,’ the speaker begins by utilizing the phrase that later came to be used as the title. The poem, which is based on Paolo Uccello’s painting Saint George and the Dragon, starts off from the perspective of the dragon in the painting. His words are colloquial, simple, and easy to understand. He refers first to the way he’s been depicted in the painting, stating that he’s not giving his “best side”. He admits this, then explains why that’s the case.
Uccello chose to paint the dragon without its two front legs. This choice he made in order to create as many triangles in his painting as possible, a technique popular during the Renaissance. It harkens back to the Holy Trinity and what was at the time seen as an artistically superior way of organizing a painting. The dragon doesn’t go into so much detail though. What he says diminishes what Uccello was trying to accomplish. But, it makes sense. Today, a viewer who is unaware of the artistic “obsession with / Triangles” and why artists chose to put them into their works, would see the composition and find it strange.
The dragon, speaking as though it was once, and somehow still is, a sentient creature, adds that he didn’t call Uccello out for this choice when he was being painted. He thought then that it wasn’t a big deal for a monster to lack two of its legs. Now though, since the painting has been finished, he thinks the subtraction makes for “bad publicity”. The enjambment in line eight of this stanza helps set the reader up for the humorous conclusion in line nine.
In the second half of the first stanza, Uccello’s dragon continues speaking. He turns his attention to the knight on the horse, judging him for how he looks and what it means to be slain by such a man. He speaks about the man’s lack of a beard, what should be a symbol of strength and manhood and his very strange horse. As with the dragon, compositional choices have been made that altered the anatomy of the horse. It has “deformed” with disproportioned hoofs that are much squarer than they should be. These lines draw a reader’s and viewer’s attention to parts of the painting that one might not notice.
Next, the dragon turns to the woman who is chained to him. Supposedly the knight is rescuing her but humorously the dragon refers to her as “inedible”. She’s so ugly he wouldn’t even want to. He also speaks on the string that attaches them.
Last, the dragon accepts that death is his lot in life and he doesn’t mind it. He’ll die, especially since he’ll always rise again. But, he’d like there to be a “little more blood”. If present, it would signal that the painter, the storytellers, and the people in the painting were “taking [him] seriously”.
In the next nine lines of ‘Not my Best Side’ the speaker changes. Now, Fanthorpe channels the woman in the painting. Just as with the dragon, her voice does not match the image. It comes from a very different world than the one Uccello was imagining. This juxtaposition between the past and present appears throughout the poem.
She states that more often than not it’s hard to know if you want “to be rescued”. It’s not so simple. In fact, the girl adds, she quite likes the dragon. She was attracted to his lovely colours and his “sexy tail”. The greed in his eyes when he looked at her made her feel a way that no man had before. She likes the feeling of someone wanting to eat her.
In the next lines of ‘Not my Best Side’, the girl addresses the man in the “machinery”. This is how she describes his armour. He was unattractive, his horse was dangerous, and she can’t see under his “hardware” to know if he’s interesting. There are too many unknowns associated with the man for the girl to commit to being rescued by him. He could be ugly or covered in acne. Any of these things, and more, would make her want to stay with the dragon.
Nevertheless, she adds at the end, the dragon was slain by the “boy,” (note she doesn’t say “man”) and she needs to think about her future.
In the next stanza of ‘Not my Best Side’ the speaker changes for the third and final time to the man on the horse. This person shows confidence similar to that displayed by the other characters. He’s unaware that the other two have just recently made fun of his manliness and horse. In fact, he describes himself and the horse quite differently. He says that he has “diplomas in Dragon / Management and Virgin Reclamation”. This genuinely funny detail shows his bravado and starchy seriousness.
Like a stereotypical man bragging about his knowledge, job, and his car, he speaks in detail on the “Automatic transmission” of his horse and amusingly, its “built in / Obsolescence”. He addresses his speaker and his armour similarly, referring to the latter as “Still on the secret list”. The use of alliteration in this line help develop the rhyme of the poem.
The knight’s words are juxtaposed with those of the dragon and girl. Both the previous speakers made fun of the knight’s looks and unapparent strengths but the knight doesn’t see them. He thinks that he’s at the top of the dragon-slaying game and no one can do better than he can “at the moment”. Consonants work to the knight’s advantage in line nine of this stanza. The repetition of the “q” sound is an interesting one and punctuates the “boy’s” speech. He asks the dragon in the last line, “why be so difficult?” He doesn’t understand why the dragon doesn’t give itself over to him easily.
The last lines of ‘Not my Best Side’ convey the knight’s confusion over the dragon’s choice to push back against “the roles / That sociology and myth have designed” for him. Shouldn’t the dragon, the speaker says, want to be killed in a new, “contemporary way?” Although the dragon does know that he has to be slain, he has a very different opinion about the knight than the knight does about himself.
The knight becomes more frustrated, trying to convince the dragon not to make this harder than it needs to be. He thinks that he’s endangering the industries that the knight depends on. Finally, in his irritation, he tells the dragon it doesn’t really matter what he thinks and that he’s “in [the knight’s] way.”