I attended at least 134 literary events in 2012. Below are my 10 favorites. I've considered mainly two factors in compiling this list: the quality of work, and how interesting or memorable the experience was. The latter category intentionally allows for many considerations, which I enjoyed keeping in mind while looking back over the year.
I have not included many outstanding solo readings (D.A. Powell, Lyn Hejinian, and Adam Johnson come immediately to mind). Also, memorable readings as part of a show that didn't quite make the top 10: Ali Liebegott and Gypsee Yo, specifically, will always stay with me. While re-watching shows to make decisions, I came across Donald Dunbar (visiting from Portland): "This poem only works if you're touching somebody you don't already know." In that spirit, these were some of my favorite literary experiences this year.
This was the final installment of The SF Guerilla Opera, which you can read more about here. Invited to participate in the Re@ds series at the Berkeley Art Museum, Tom Comitta invited all present to read from and/or sing to whatever extent they wanted for the duration of 40 minutes. There were extended moments of spontaneous group synchronization, everyone in the room chanting the same thing with fervor; there were small, enthusiastically nonsensical groups; there were people reading silently in corners. This event affected me as much as probably anything I've ever experienced. I sang louder that day, crossing streets, and there was something in my voice that encouraged other people to sing back.
The amount of emotion in the Verdi Club this past Valentine's Day was astonishing. This was a nationwide highlight in literary events this year, which was clear to the rest of the world the next morning when the Internet couldn't stop saying Sugar: The New Yorker, Publishers Weekly, and Vogue were among the many to post special features the following morning; it was apparent to everyone in the room that evening, though, as the first Sugar, Steve Almond, set the tone:
"Sugar is an Internet phenomenon. And the Internet is a place we go -- it's a place I go -- when I'm feeling needy and lonely and aggrieved. And it is for the most part -- not entirely, but for the most part -- filled with people who are snarky and resentful and getting off on schadenfreude ... all the modern sports of distraction. And what they're really doing is lying. They're angry and troubled, and they can't be honest about that; they can't face themselves so they're cruel to somebody else. And Sugar really intuited that what we need is just the opposite of that. We need a place, a kind of community or an oasis where radical empathy is enforced."
That community recognized itself, and roared.
As part of the One Loves Only Form project, Emily Gable and Brianna Toth hosted a marathon reading of Charles Olson's The Maximus Poems. The group, which met at noon at Ocean Beach, morphed, and left for the nearby indoors after three hours of brutal 20mph winds, finished the entire 700-page opus at approximately 11:15pm.
It was the first time I met any of these people (excepting Charles, of course) and the first time I ever read any substantial part of The Maximus Poems and, I have to say, reading a master work with new people is an excellent way to experience both things.