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The Collected Works of Billy the Kid
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The Collected Works of Billy the Kid

4.02 of 5 stars 4.02  ·  rating details  ·  2,250 ratings  ·  178 reviews
Drawing on contemporary accounts, period photographs, dime novels, and his own prodigious fund of empathy and imagination, Michael Ondaatje's visionary novel traces the legendary outlaw's passage across the blasted landscape of 1880 New Mexico and the collective unconscious of his country. The Collected Works of Billy the Kid is a virtuoso synthesis of storytelling, histor ...more
ebook, 128 pages
Published April 20th 2011 by Vintage (first published October 28th 1974)
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Community Reviews

(showing 1-30 of 3,000)
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mark monday
avant-garde, postmodern, revisionist, a deconstruction, self-conscious and self-aware, prose from another planet, beautifully brutal, the kind of spikey poetry you see in some of the books of Hawke or even some DeLillo (i'm thinking Libra), the kind of book that you read and reread and remember forever. at least this reader did.

all of the above does nothing to sum up the yearning and strangeness and rightness of this underrated modern classic.

i mentioned 'poetry' but i am talking about the prose
...more
Paquita Maria Sanchez
A stew of fact and fiction, a hot mess of history, a researched yet fabricated poetry book, a travelogue, a series of gray-scale images, and also text describing nonexistent images in film photography's technical jargon (and I swoon), this book hits all my right notes. If Billy the Kid had ever constructed a little girl's scrapbook journal which reflected on the huge themes of his life, but in simple language like stripping bare an entire mythology of a real human being and then drawing it in cr ...more
Jim
"Get away from me yer stupid chicken."

Oh man I love this book. There's a blurb from Larry McMurtry where he admits that it "strains one's powers of descrition" which pretty much sums it up. The Collected Works explores the interior life of Billy the Kid and his relationship with Pat Garrett. It's raw, funny, and frightening all in one go. Because 1) it's so interior, 2) Ondaatje excels at this sort of characterization, and 3) Billy is bat shit crazy, the exteriors are hyperbolic and grotesque. B
...more
Tony
(Cue the Dylan soundtrack from the movie Pat Garrett and Billy the Kid. A little scratchy, a little 'first-take'. Go sepia. Remember the first time you heard: Billy, you're so far away from home.)

Ondaatje was a kid in Sri Lanka -- a kid in Sri Lanka -- and he fell in love with the legend of Billy the Kid. Never kicked it. Then he started to write -- he had to write. He wrote a collage: of poems and poem fragments, prose, documentary testimonies. It's uneven, a broken western sky. But we're at th
...more
Leigh
I've taken to describing this book as "What would happen if William Faulkner wrote Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid as a poem. Concisely. In Canada."

So it's no surprise that it blew me away.
John
Michael Ondaatje is certainly one of the world's greatest living writers. My admiration for his writing craft is boundless but I will nonetheless attempt at a dispirited review of his first novel-ish publication. Although this is his first "novel" (more on novel(ish)ness later), it ranks among his most unabashedly avant-garde next to The English Patient and his most recent Divisadero. The Collected Works of Billy the Kid is one of the earliest attempts in North American letters at revising the W ...more
John
Dec 03, 2007 John rated it 4 of 5 stars  ·  review of another edition
Recommends it for: the West
I'd say this book is like a Terence Malick movie transformed into poetry/prose/a few pictures. It's fragmentary, nebulous, disintegrating, nonsensical, beautiful, weird, scary, quiet, even silent. It's got lots and lots of white space. For a reason. I think it's wonderful and I want to spend even more time with it, let it soak in a bit more before further reports. One thing to say: it's very much an Ezra Pound poetry as history sort of thing, but clearer (but only because we know the myth immedi ...more
Tinea
Sep 20, 2008 Tinea rated it 4 of 5 stars  ·  review of another edition
Recommended to Tinea by: K.
Shelves: poetry
Poems, snippets, and pictures.
Hearty. Read it twice.

After shooting Gregory
this is what happened

I'd shot him well and careful
made it explode under his heart
so it wouldn't last long
was about to walk away
when this chicken paddles out to him
and as he was falling hops on his neck
digs the beak into his throat
straightens legs and heaves
a red and blue vein out

Meanwhile he fell
and the chicken walked away

still tugging at the vein
till it was 12 yards long
as if it held that body like a kite
Gregory's last w
...more
Tyler Jones
I don’t see why you need my views on it.

But since you ask.

I do not claim to be an authority on poetry - least of all the experimental kind. Seems to me too many of thems that write it see a reader enjoying their work as a sign they did it wrong. Listening to me ramble on about it - you’d think I was one of them dumbass Conservatives as hates anything intellectual - but I really put great store in most literatures. It’s just that experimental poetry that gets my dander up.

But Billy is another sto
...more
Pierce
I have a theory about my difficulties with poetry. I think, because I kind of discovered prose outside of learning, I've always viewed it as past-time more anything. My parents got me reading early, I feel like I was reading books quite early. I certainly had a well-established addiction to Famous Five by the time I was in first class (seven-ish?).

But never poetry. The only poetry I was ever really exposed to was in the classroom. Thinking about it like that I can understand how other kids felt
...more
Karissa
I LOVE this. So much that after I finished, I spent some time reading about Billy the Kid's life, and then started rereading Ondaatje's book. This is one of those books that, like Anne Carson's Autobiography of Red, blurs the lines between novel and poetry. It needs to be savored slowly, and it's a book that doesn't seem to come together until you get to the end and then take the time to reread it. The first read was like wading through water -- enjoyable because Ondaatje's words are a joy to re ...more
L.M. Ironside
A slim but gorgeous, highly experimental work, The Collected Works of Billy the Kid follows, somewhat disjointedly, the life of the famous outlaw and a bit of his legend, too. Through a mixture of Ondaatje's unparalleled poetry (he is undoubtedly the most under-appreciated poet in the English-speaking world) and his equally moving, memorable prose, the reader drifts in and out of Billy's mind, his experiences, and the perspectives of the people who knew and loved him. The book is deeply focused ...more
Kayla
I have wracked my brain, no joke - I actually whipped out a thesaurus in an attempt to find a word that might adequately describe Michael Ondaatje's Collected Works of Billy the Kid, but to no avail. I just don't think there is a word in the English language that would do it much justice. "Beautiful" or even "gorgeous" seem too dreary. No, Ondaatje's book of poems inspired by the infamous American outlaw is something else entirely. Writing from several perspectives, including that of Billy himse ...more
Rob
This is the book that got Tom Romano thinking about incorporating multigenre research in his high school classes, and it's easy to see why he found it so inspiring. (Interesting side note: In a new afterword Ondaatje reveals that he did almost no outside research prior to or during writing. He based his writing on the two facts he knew – that Billy the Kid was 21 when he died, and he had killed 21 people. Virtually everything else is Ondaatje's invention, contrary to what Romano thought). The co ...more
Matthew
Traditional novels starring legendary figures out of history often fill in too many of the blanks, either inflating the legend further with far-fetched inventions or deflating the legend with mundane, unnecessary details. This book does not try to fill in all the spaces, it's a brief assemblage of images and graphic episodes. It's imperfect and difficult to follow, but so was Billy the Kid.

I love his ugly-ass smiling portrait.

Ondaatje did this same exercise with Buddy Bolden, the seminal jazz t
...more
Erica
"His stomach was warm
remembered this when I put my hand into
a pot of luke warm tea to wash it out
dragging out the stomach to get the bullet
he wanted to see when taking tea
with Sallie Chisum in Paris Texas

With Sallie Chisum in Paris Texas
he wanted to see when taking tea
dragging out the stomach to get the bullet
a pot of luke warm tea to wash it out
remembered this when I put my hand into
his stomach was warm"



Who thought we could know Billy the Kid so intimately through poetry and photographs?...
Andrew
Other than a few poems, i've never read any Ondaatje, and this book really blew me away. I was drawn to it for the collage-like assemblage of texts (poems, stories, pictures, etc) that together work to blend history and mythology. The effect is wonderful. It's a quick read and so many wonderfully abject, violent, and sad moments. The one down side: every time I read the word "Billy" I couldn't help but think of Emilio Estevez. Him I could live without, but don't take away my Lou Diamond Phillips ...more
Jessie Carty
I've had this on my list for quite a while because I love the notion of verse novels and/or cross genre writing. this is my first exposure to Ondaatje's work and I'd have to say that even just the afterword about how he came to create the book was worth the price of admission. And, if that doesn't sell you than the final lines of one poem/story should with "this breaking where red things wade." Great read.
Hannah
I must admit that I found the poetry a little bit hard to absorb, and the whole time I was reading I kept wondering what my ex-boyfriend (a poet) would think about it. The prose, on the other hand was wonderful, and I wish there had been more of both because by the time I got used to the two together, the book was over. So many reviewers here talk about re-reading, and I think I may have to do so myself.
Glenda
I'm a fan of Ondaatje and postmodern storytelling. However, I read "The Collected Works of Billy the Kid" to see and learn about Tom Romano's inspiration for multigenre projects. That's what Ondaatje's book is: a book of blended genres, some fiction, some history, some myth, some first person, some nonfiction, some prose, some poetry, some photography. All fascinating and original.
Printable Tire
I've been meaning to read this ever since I saw The Twenty-One Lives of Billy the Kid, a movie in which Billy is shot twenty-one times by a gunman off screen and talks to a bunch of people around an Eternal Campfire.

It delivers! I liked it very very much. It reminded me in some ways of Richard Brautigan (though Brautigan is much sillier).

Nothing more to add, really.
Tawny
Favorite quotes:
1. "My fingers touch/this soft blue paper notebook/control a pencil that shifts up and sideways/mapping my thinking going its own way/like light wet glasses drifting on polished wood."
2. "Not a story about me through their eyes then. Find the beginning, the slight silver key to unlock it, to dig it out. Here then is a maze to begin, be in."
M. Sarki
Made it about half way through. The book just did not connect with me. I did not believe it, hard as I tried. However, I am a big fan of the legend of Billy the Kid, but this work left me disappointed and adrift. After looking now at two of his books, it is clear I am not an Ondaatje fan even if he is an anointed one.
S.
I picked this up on a trip to the Southwest in the '80s not really knowing what it was. I'd never read Ondaatje before. After I finished, I still didn't know what it was, except that it was fabulous, surprising, exciting. Turned me on to Ondaatje. This book needs more attention.
Patrick
Interesting tale telling. I enjoyed the lack of pictures to fit the descriptions. It made me want to read more so I could fill those gaps. Switching between poems and stories form different characters was quite original. Another key point..... very dirty and gory.
Erin
The thing about Michael Ondaatje is that sometimes I don't have a clue what he's talking about. Well, maybe a clue, but not the whole idea. And it doesn't ever matter, because it's like he's put words to dreams--he does that so exquisitely--and I don't expect dreams to make sense. His prose, more than anyone else's, comes back to me later in the day, and that's when I get it. (It's because I passed by this dusty old photo of Aunt Martha yesterday that I dreamed about her!) And at that point, I'm ...more
Kerfe
As Ondaatje himself says in the afterword, this is a collage of a book. He says it started out as poetry, inspired by both the legend and the lack of real information about Billy the Kid. The author could make the person, and the story, into what he wanted.

The prose, poetry, and images form a cohesive atmospheric whole.

The chaos of life on the frontier, always fluid, lawless, and changing, is captured beautifully. The contradictory nature of each player in the mythical drama, their distinct voic
...more
Tim Weakley
I enjoyed this one overall. The structure took me a little bit to get into, but the language made up for it. Very stark, and evocative of the subject.
Sandy Day
I think I've read this book a hundred times. A poetry teacher in high-school introduced me to it. I'd never read anything so gritty and sensual and amusing. When I was a child I used to play Frank and Jessie James with my best-friend; Billy the Kid was one of our imaginary pals. So reading him come to life on the page in Ondaatje's slim volume blew open my idea of what one was allowed to write about. I attended Glendon College because it said on the back of the book that was where Ondaatje taugh ...more
Keith Frost
Wow. If you are expecting linear story-telling, with a carefully designed plot, clearly defined characters and evocative images, you'll find that here...just not in the way you expect. A mix of prose, poetry, and the use of few carefully chosen words to establish and illuminate a scene made this book one I could not put down. And then went back and read again. Leave yourself open to it, and you'll truly appreciate it.

There is an author's epilogue in which Ondaatje explains at some length how he
...more
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Earlier Ondaatje 1 12 Jun 04, 2009 02:36PM  
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4030
He was born to a Burgher family of Dutch-Tamil-Sinhalese-Portuguese origin. He moved to England with his mother in 1954. After relocating to Canada in 1962, Ondaatje became a Canadian citizen. Ondaatje studied for a time at Bishops College School and Bishop's University in Lennoxville, Quebec, but moved to Toronto and received his BA from the University of Toronto and his MA from Queen's Universit ...more
More about Michael Ondaatje...
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“Blood a necklace on me all my life.” 3 likes
“She had lived in that house fourteen years, and every year she had demanded of John that she be given a pet of some strange exotic breed. Not that she did not have enough animals. She had collected several wild and broken animals that, in a way, had become exotic by their breaking. Their roof would have collapsed from the number of birds who might have lived there if the desert hadn't killed three- quarters of those that tried to cross it. Still every animal that came within a certain radius of that house was given a welcome--the tame, the half born, the wild, the wounded.” 3 likes
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