This is in no particular order of awesomeness, just a list of things and people I’ve been amazed and inspired by this year.
1) Sonny and the Sunsets’ Longtime Companion. Sonny Smith has been a Bay Area stalwart for many years, and his band keeps getting better and better. He began 2012 by staging a solo performance piece at the Lost Church, and continued with this album release and numerous tours.
2) Fiona Apple and Cat Power. Both released new albums I’ve found inspiring in different ways. Fiona Apple’s The Idler Wheel… is an idiosyncratic bit of raw emotion, with live performances to match. Cat Power’s Sun puts autotune and dance beats to amazingly fresh use, reinvigorating her whole sound.
3) Feist’s guitar playing. I’ll be the first to admit that Feist’s Metals (actually released in late 2011) is probably not her best work. But I was totally unprepared for the way Ms. Feist absolutely shredded on lead guitar during her concert in Buffalo in summer 2012.
4) Hoa Nguyen, As Long as Trees Last (Wave). In addition to being a great friend, Hoa Nguyen continues to be one of our generation's most important and adventurous poets, with each new work pushing her experiments with Olsonian line and persona further.
5) Kathryn Pringle, fault tree. (Omnidawn). Kathryn Pringle writes deep, research-oriented, language-inquisitive books that strike off into breathtakingly original territory.
6) Kim Gek Lin Short, China Cowboy (Tarpaulin Sky). Wildly funny yet thought-provoking and genre-bending take on the long narrative-style poem.
7) Rich Owens, Ballads (habenicht press). If I’m permitted to mention a book my own press published this year, I want to call attention to this one—indeed, my relationship to the poems therein began as one of open admiration. Rich Owens hearkens back to the ballad form in creating taut, dense lyrics that interweave his strong interest in Marxism and capital.
8) Thomas Meyer, Beowulf (punctum books). Quite simply the most adventurous and readable translation of Beowulf to come along in years, displaying all of Meyer's lyric gifts with humor and visual style.
9) Eileen Joy, lead force behind punctum books, postmedieval, and the BABEL Working Group; general life inspiration. Eileen Joy is a medievalist whose courage and creativity apparently know no bounds. In addition to starting a new and exciting open-access experimental press, continuing to publish an award-winning academic journal, and growing an insurgent cross-genre medievalist organization, she blogs (on “In the Middle”) and seemingly travels nonstop, giving talks and spreading lightness and hope to academics everywhere.
10) Running. This year I transformed my relationship with exercise from one of grudging habit to active pursuit, trained seriously for a number of races, massively upped my mileage and pace, and overall felt healthier and more energetic than I had in years. I have to thank my wife and friends, whose own fitness craze and enthusiasm rubbed off on me.