Poets Drinking Carrot Juice: An Interview with Joshua Weiner

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Earlier this week, I mentioned that Jerry Seinfeld’s series called “Comedians in Cars Getting Coffee” inspired my coffee interview series with poets. Each episode shows Jerry Seinfeld driving a notable car to pick up a comedian. He drives them to a coffee shop, and they drink their coffee and chat. Today’s post includes an interview with Josh Weiner, who is one of the poets we included in The Bloomsbury Anthology of Contemorary Jewish American Poetry

By the way, we have a full list of events related to the book. We’d love to see you!

Poets, of course, don’t just drink coffee.

Josh Weiner ordered carrot juice.

Let me be clear here. The carrot juice order gives the person craving chocolate some pause. Does one proceed with the hot chocolate order (yes to whipped cream) or select one of the organic herbal teas made by extremely happy people in another country?

If not for Dan Ariely’s book, Predictably Irrational, I may well have fallen into ordering something similar to show solidarity. In his book, psychologist and behavioral economist Ariely explains one should be the first to order in a restaurant. Ordering first prevents one from the desire to express individuality by ordering something they do not like in order to be “different” or by expressing solidarity by ordering what someone else orders. The result is often ordering something you don’t like—and being “irrational.” Order first, and these challenges are avoided, my friend.

Despite Josh’s good example—and thanks to Dan Ariely—I kept my original order of hot chocolate with whipped cream. It came with a hair (at no additional charge). Josh said he would not blame me for not wanting to drink bacteria, so I sent it back and got coffee. I ended up with something slightly healthier after all, but the caffeine made me talk a lot.

Our Meeting Place: Busboys and Poets, Hyattsville, MD

Side note: Busboys and Poets is a restaurant named for Langston Hughes. Hughes, if you recall, was a busboy at the Wardman Park (now called the Marriott Wardman Park and a favorite of the AWP and MLA conferences for you English professor/writer types) in Washington, DC. When Vachel Lindsay dined there, Hughes placed his poems in front of the great poet. Lindsay was annoyed, but he picked up the papers and read them. He liked “The Weary Blues” and helped Hughes with his career.

Let’s get to the cars.

Cars Involved: Josh drove a Mini Cooper. I drove a Corolla.

About Josh:

Joshua Weiner is the author of three books of poetry—The World’s Room (2001), From the Book of Giants (2006), and The Figure of a Man Being Swallowed by a Fish (2013)—published by the University of Chicago. He’s received a Whiting Writers Award, the Rome Prize from the American Academy of Arts & Letters, and the Amy Lowell Poetry Traveling Scholarship. In 2014, he’ll be a fellow of the Guggenheim Memorial Foundation. He teaches at the University of Maryland, College Park and is poetry editor at Tikkun. He lives in Washington, DC with his wife, the novelist Sarah Blake, and their children.

We started off our conversation talking about topics I was writing about for this week of blogging—Jewish last names, identity, the definition of a Jewish poet or poem.

“I’m not not a Jewish writer,” Josh replied as we talked about Jewish identity. In this, he echoes a number of poets I’ve spoken to about identity. Writers may not use a Jewish label to define themselves, yet their background ends up seeping into their work.

Josh and his family lived in Berlin for a year after he won the Amy Lowell Poetry Traveling Scholarship, which awards funds to poets to live outside of the United States for a year.

I mentioned knowing two families who moved to Germany… Read more at the Best American Poetry blog.