Michael Ondaatje: The Collected Works of Billy the Kid: Left Handed Poems

(3099 words)
  • Ryan Webb (University of East Anglia)

The Collected Works is a difficult text to categorise generically. Its subject is historical – the late nineteenth century American outlaw William H. Bonney, better known as Billy the Kid – yet its approach is every bit as fictive as biographical, if not more so. Ondaatje himself has referred to the text as a poem, yet the book is a collage of poetry, prose and image, incorporating quotation from, and pastiche of, both historical and pop-culture sources. The best way to describe it, perhaps, is as a work of historiographic metafiction, viewing the past, and the past’s textual remains in the present, through a highly self-conscious, self-reflexive and fragmented literary filter.

The text’s full title – The …

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Webb, Ryan. "The Collected Works of Billy the Kid: Left Handed Poems". The Literary Encyclopedia. First published 17 March 2004
[http://www.litencyc.com/php/sworks.php?rec=true&UID=5864, accessed 27 September 2016.]