Tag Archives: westerns

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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