San Francisco's Typewriter Poet Brings Art Back to Analog

2 min
Silvi Alcivar and her typewriter. (Courtesy of Scott R. Kline)

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.

O

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.

A still photo of Silvi Alcivar's typewriter from "California Typewriter," a film by Doug Nichol. (Courtesy of Doug Nichol)

"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."

Silvi Alcivar at an event at McEvoy Flowers. (Courtesy of Silvi Alcivar)

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."

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Alcivar and her red Royal were featured in a recent documentary, "California Typewriter," which also included the stories of an iconic Berkeley typewriter shop of the same name.

A one-of-a-kind poem by Silvi Alcivar, typed on her manual Royal typewriter. (Courtesy Silvi Alcivar)

"I hope that people will feel that poetry isn't as inaccessible as it gets made out to be," Alcivar says. "I hope people will feel seen. I hope they will feel delighted. I hope they will feel moved if they were wanting to be moved. I hope that they will feel a connection. Poetry is a radical thing. It's an old form. It is genre-bending.

“I think it's magical and pretty preposterous and absolutely incredible that I get to do this as my job, and that when I say to people, ‘Would you like a poem?’ they often say back to me, ‘I need a poem.’ And I will never stop being humbled and surprised and completely delighted by the need for poetry.”

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