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Poet Robert Hass: An Elegy For His Younger Brother

Robert Hass says he didn't sit down to write a poem about the unexpected death of his younger brother.

"I just, you know, do what poets do [which] is sit down in the morning and write," he said. "I just kind of wrote my way through what came to me."

What came to Hass, the former poet laureate of the United States, was a mournful elegy, "August Notebook: A Death." The poem, which starts off with a series of typos purposefully making it hard to read, is included in Hass' new collection, The Apple Trees at Olema.

Hass is no stranger to the personal poetic narrative, but he had to take a slightly different approach when writing about his brother, who had cerebral palsy and occasionally lived on the street.

Cover Art: The Apple Trees at Olema
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"To get some of the texture of my brother's life required me to write in a different way," he tells Fresh Air host Terry Gross. "I was saying to myself at the time, 'God, this is very prose-y material.' But of course you can't [write] this if you don't go there."

Hass received the Pulitzer Prize and the National Book Award for his collection Time and Materials. His other collections include Sun Under Wood, which received the National Book Critics Circle Award, and Human Wishes; Praise, for which he received the William Carlos Williams Award.

From 1995 to 1997, he served as the poet laureate of the United States.

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