This piece was produced as part of The California Report Magazine's "Throwback Show." Listen to this and more in-depth storytelling by subscribing to The California Report Magazine podcast.
n a recent day at the San Francisco Zoo, through the squawks of tropical birds like Bali mynas and great hornbills, you could hear the sound of another kind of creature, one on the edge of extinction: A red Royal manual typewriter, with poet Silvi Alcivar clacking away at the keys.
“I use a typewriter because I think that if I wasn't a poet I would be a sculptor,” she says. “There's something about my process that's really kinesthetic. Using the typewriter means that my work gets to come out of my hands.”
Alcivar is a full-time poet who travels around California, lugging her manual typewriter to events at public spaces like zoos and museums, and to weddings. She creates one-of-a-kind, on-the-spot works for people who approach her table and tell her about their lives. She listens while typing out a spontaneous poem.
"I really like not having to deal with anything that's electrically powered,” she says. “That's one of the reasons I started writing on the typewriter. For me, the analog way just keeps things simple. And it invokes a nostalgia for people, even if it's a nostalgia for a time that wasn't theirs."
Alcivar says parents who approach her table often tell their children that typewriters were “the original computer.” But Alcivar responds, "Actually, the computer is in your brain, and this is the printer."