Tag Archives: Michael Ondaatje

Most Vivid Reads #3

The first two posts in this series can be found here  and here.

Gilead  Marilynne Robinson

Gilead is a luscious read, a quiet, powerful, resonating read, the epitome of the sort of book you might find yourself refusing to read the last page of because it will be awful to have it be over. The narrator is an old man, a minister, nearing his own death and writing a letter (the book is the letter) to his young son. “My custom has always been to ponder grief,” he says partway through,

That is, to follow it through ventricle and aorta to find out its lurking places. That old weight in the chest, telling me there is something I must dwell on, because I know more than I know and must learn it from myselfthat same good weight worries me these days.

And you will remember, and slow down to think about, his voice, I daresay, off and on for all of your days. Continue reading

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Ondaatje’s Billy the Kid

“There are the killed.//(By me)” begins Michael Ondaatje’s The Collected Works of Billy the Kid. Then a list:

Morton, Baker, early friends of mine.
Joe Bernstein. 3 Indians.
A blacksmith when I was twelve, with a knife.

13 more dead men listed by name or situation, plus “A rabid cat/birds during practice.” The 2nd half of the poem:

These are the killed.

(By them) —
Charlie, Tom O’Folliard
Angela D’s split arm,
,                                       and Pat Garrett

sliced off my head.
Blood a necklace on me all my life.

I love this collection, published in 1974 (Ondaatje’s third book of poems, before he began publishing prose), and that amplifies my frustration at the limitations of his later poems, which just don’t seem to have as much there there.

But in The Collected Works of Billy the Kid — a composite work in the voice of and about the legendary western outlaw, including (untitled) poetry, short prose sections, a few eyewitness accounts, and photos — Billy’s voice is (among other things including captivating, violent, lyrical, startling, loving, simple, rough, and insightful) authentic. Continue reading

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