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The Collected Works of Billy the Kid

4.01  ·  Rating details ·  3,082 Ratings  ·  255 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 1970)
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Sep 24, 2017 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
This is a portrait of Billy the Kid as reflected in a thousand pieces of a shattered mirror. The book is composed of vignettes, poems, photos, and fragments of prose, each of which is a little stroke of brilliance and all of which together paint an incredibly rich, violent, and moving portrait of this young man and his legend. Ondaatje is quite a conjurer here.
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
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
Jun 03, 2009 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: the-west
"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
Feb 20, 2013 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
(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
Khashayar Mohammadi
One of the most original books of Poetry I have ever read. Ingenious, Bold and Lachrymose.
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.
Goran Gluščić
Oct 21, 2016 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: favorite-books

Ovo je jedna nenormalno dobra knjiga koja u lijepoj našoj dolazi u kompletu s nenormalno lošim prijevodom.

Knjigu sam isprve čitao dosta zbunjen, s tek komadićima očigledne briljanosti koje su mi upadale u oči. Jer ima ih, itekako ih ima. Većina je ipak bila zbrljani mish-mash, no ajde, bilo je dovoljno dobro da krenem knjigu još jednom pročitati na engleskom.

Na to me zapravo motivirala ova rečenica: "I'll be with the world till she dies" koja je kod nas prevedena kao "Pamtit će me dok je svijet
Dec 03, 2007 rated it really liked it  ·  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
May 02, 2008 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
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
Feb 04, 2008 rated it really liked it  ·  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
Jul 07, 2008 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
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
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
Feb 25, 2011 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
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
Mar 28, 2017 rated it it was ok  ·  review of another edition
If you're looking for something along the lines of The True History of the Kelly Gang or even Lonesome Dove, this ain't that. There were bits in this mishmash that worked, but the overall effect was too disjointed and maybe even self-indulgent to make for a satisfying read. Then again, it's Ondaatje, and Annie Dillard and Larry McMurtry blurbed it, so maybe I failed the author rather than the other way around.
Sep 08, 2017 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Truly bizarre and unexpected.
Jan 19, 2011 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
"I'll be with the world till she dies."

So says William Bonney in Michael Ondaatje's impressionistic, avant-garde novel about the West's most mythologized outlaw.

In this postmodern experiment with poetry, fragmented narrative, and photography, Ondaatje mines the essence, if not the facts, of Billy the Kid, using atmosphere, language, and form.

"A river you could get lost in
and the sun a flashy hawk
on the edge of it"

I felt the book was at its best in the short, stark poems, which illuminate a ve
Libbie Hawker (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
Aug 10, 2012 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
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
Nov 04, 2011 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
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
Dec 11, 2013 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
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
Sandy Day
Sep 12, 2014 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: influenced-me
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
Adam Brewer
Jul 26, 2016 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
This is a great book. Ondaatje mixes genres here, such as poetry, prose, interviews, and news clippings. It creates a collage that is intended to portray the mind of Billy the Kid, and is tender and brutal at the same time. I really love this book. I re-read passages numerous times just to float in the imagery and soak it up. I can't say I came away from my first reading understanding what Ondaatje is doing all of the time. There are more than a few passages that just baffle me, but somehow the ...more
Mar 13, 2013 rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
"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?...
Dorothy Hermary
Sep 20, 2015 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: western
When I started reading this small volume of interspersed poetry amongst clarifying prose I disliked the poetry portion. However once I focused on the multi-layered perceptions of Billy the Kid the poetry became his voice in a way that the prose could not.

An example:
One morning woke up
Charlie was cooking
and we ate not talking
but sniffing wind
wind so fine
it was like drinking ether

Within the poetry Ondaatje's punctuation is eratic, but the more I read the more I realized that Billy was eratic and O
May 16, 2012 rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: kindle
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.
Feb 04, 2011 rated it it was ok  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: canada, toronto
This is the first of Ondaatje's experimental-type books, never quite comes together. A lot of the prose is solid (and in his afterword, he says it's the first prose he wrote to publish; I find this surprising, but hey, it's a good start). The poetry has good bits and bad. But, as I said, the work as a whole never quite comes together for me.
Jul 20, 2008 rated it it was ok  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: poetry
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."
Nov 17, 2013 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
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.
M. Sarki
Nov 05, 2011 rated it did not like it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: abandoned
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.
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Earlier Ondaatje 1 14 Jun 04, 2009 02:36PM  
  • The Weight of Oranges / Miners Pond / Skin Divers: Poems
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  • One Big Self: An Investigation
  • I Remember
  • Ooga-Booga: Poems
  • Collected Works
  • The Studhorse Man
  • The Book of Frank
  • Four Questions of Melancholy: New and Selected Poems
  • Bucolics
  • The Dream Police: Selected Poems, 1969-1993
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
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“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.” 4 likes
“Blood a necklace on me all my life.” 3 likes
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