billy’s brother

Guess who got to return to Erie? I did! And it was not all for fun, but for business – thesis business, if you can believe it! I wanted to go back to the source for my exposure to Ondaatje’s work in order to ask questions. So, I got to grace my old adviser and poetry-guru, Dr. Jeffrey Roessner, with my presence (that’s right, y’all haven’t seen the last of me!).

I used to go to Hogwarts for my undergrad, no biggie.
I explained the basis for what I wanted to do, and told him I was planning on a digital beat poetry project that could use the same multimodality and character-building of Ondaatje’s Billy the Kid. I then asked him if there were any other books of poetry in the same vein of Billy the Kid – after Ondaatje had written that collection of poetry, he wrote another book with a completely different form, and so on. He suggested a poem we had read in our Contemporary Poetry class (the same where we read BtK), “Ellen West” by Frank Bidart. It’s also a longer poem written in the point of view of this “historical character,” and experiments with form, although not to the same extend as BtK. Bidart takes an account of an institutionalized anorexic woman, and writes poems from her point of view, as well as implements actual medical records and the doctor’s own accounts of how the woman is doing – a very moving piece that starts to build those same multimodal experiences as how Ondaatje and other pieces of e-lit would.

We also took a look at the Northon Anthology of the American Hybrid. Honestly, we didn’t find a lot there, but I made a note to take a look at Claudia Rankine’s Don’t Let Me Be Lonely – I think it might do a bit of the same experimentation of form and different elements of media, but it isn’t a character poem, so much a personal poem.

(From there, we got on a discussion about Slyvia Plath and how she [unintentionally] ruined poetry. While she and Ginsberg both were authentic and personal with their audiences, as well as self-obsessed, the content of what they were sharing were both different – my observation is that Plath was going on and on about her emotions and suicidal thoughts, while Ginsberg was talking about peoples’ assholes… and let’s face it. Assholes are way more interesting than any more of that “deep, dark” confessional stuff, but I digress.)

Additionally, as we were talking a little bit more of what I was planning on doing, and how it related to my undergrad thesis that Dr. Roessner had overseen, I had an idea of potentially how I wanted it to be digitally set up. I know I wanted to scan pictures and implement them on a website of sorts, but I think I might have the basis of the project be Ginsberg’s apartment studio from the 1950s. It will work like how you take virtual reality tours, but it’s clickable – kind of like those old PC story games in the late 90s and early 2000s.


For example, you can click on a typewriter or piece of paper, and a poem will pop up – or click on a record player, and maybe an early recording of “Father Death Blues” or jazz will play. Part of this reminds me of an e-lit piece we explored last year, too – it was one about this woman’s life and her relationships, and you could go through the rooms and hit different objects to make different noises and to see some writing. I’ll have to go back to the Electronic Literature collection and find it when I get more into the creation of the digital space, but I’m excited.

Basically, the recap of the weekend was that I still can’t find any works that do what Billy does (on paper, anyways). It’s a mixture of persona poems, hybrid narrative, historical fiction, and interdisciplinary elements, which make it a unique work. While BtK might not have a twin, I’m certain there’s maybe a distant relative or second, second cousin that I can add to my references.


3 Replies to “billy’s brother”

  1. Billy must have relatives. I know it. Maybe Ellen is a third or fourth cousin.

    This is such good work to read Hailey, to reach out to your advisor.

    Perhaps some things to look at are interactive graphic novels? Some of them may have out of reach production levels but maybe they will generate some visions? Like some of the examples at

    I need to crack open my newly arrive BtK soon!


  2. Give me your digital beat poetry,
    words floating from the ether
    of shard imagination,
    and as we write,
    tiptapping the words
    on these ancient keyboards,
    made nostalgic by time,
    the rhythm of the flow
    signals the soundtrack
    of our days …



  3. A few more thoughts to feed the idea fire.

    Another way perhaps of laying this out, rather than trying to get inside the head of Ginsberg, might be to weave it through the perspectives of others around him? It seems like in BtK, at my simple first take,is there is the poetic voice that seems within, there’s also the narrative voice that seems almost from the outside looking in.

    Or, maybe (and completely different) is the way the film I’m Not There explored Bob Dylan, through different characters, perhaps portraying different aspects of his personality, and almost none are him/ From Wikipedia

    Six actors depict different facets of Dylan’s public personas: Christian Bale, Cate Blanchett, Marcus Carl Franklin, Richard Gere, Heath Ledger, and Ben Whishaw. A caption at the start of the film declares it to be “inspired by the music and the many lives of Bob Dylan”; this is the only mention of Dylan in the film apart from song credits, and his only appearance in it is concert footage from 1966 shown during the film’s final moments.

    The film tells its story using non-traditional narrative techniques, intercutting the storylines of seven different Dylan-inspired characters.

    Or there is the rock opera by The Who and film Quadrophenia, which is suggested to represent the four personalities of the band in one troubled kid who tries to make sense of his 4 selves.

    Just random thoughts. What is Billy up to this week?


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