Guam poet records pandemic musings in verses
In the age of Zoom, Johanna Salinas has created a more analog pandemic experience for the masses: a zine.
Released on Oct. 27, Salinas’s zine consists of about 30 poems from different times throughout the pandemic.
The bright mango and star apple cover art is courtesy of Guam-based artist Breanne Bliss and the magazine is printed locally with the help of Ta Tuge’ Mo’na, a nonprofit organization that supports literary communities on the island.
“It's nice to just turn off the screens. Turn off all of those technological devices. I'm pretty sure this past year, we've been consuming too much technology,” said Salinas, a teacher at Asmuyao Community School and a contributing writer to the Pacific Island Times. “Grab a book, go to the beach and sit in the sand and read my poetry and, yeah, feel some sadness with me.”
Divided into three parts, “Johanna’s New Normal” offers a glimpse into Salinas’ internal dialogue as a 28-year-old woman navigating her identity.
The zine was spawned by the lockdown ennui. “I was just thinking of ways to use my time wisely during the pandemic when the whole island locked down. People were baking bread and caulking their bathtubs,” Salinas said. “So that's when the idea first came about.”
Most of the pieces are autobiographical vignettes depicting a millennial CHamoru woman living in 2020—which is to say there is a smattering of references to Netflix, YouTube, Instagram and BTS, the world’s top recording K-pop band.
Salinas opens the poem “Taimamalao” with the lines, “Sometimes I’m not a good Chamorita because I have no shame. As a lonely teen, I ate so much romcoms and chick lit.”
The piece includes perceptive bites of observation on feminism, colonialism and gender roles.
While inviting readers to feel some of her sadness, Salinas said poems in “Johanna’s New Normal” aren’t all gloomy. “There’s a mix,” she said.
Part one comprises poems that are centered around self-love. “It's pretty much reminding myself to be kind to myself and to be kind to others, and to spread kindness and be a more positive person,” Salinas said.
The second part revolves around quashing pessimism, Salinas said. Labeled “Stop playing the victim,” it features the piece, “No More Mango Poems,” which is also the inspiration behind the cover art.
“It reminds me to stop being so negative, to stop focusing on the bad things in life and to just focus on doing things, creating things, to focus more on being someone good for the community, rather than just complaining,” Salinas said.
The third and final part is labeled “Stop Feeling Too Much.” Salinas said it’s a reminder to herself not to be too sensitive to “what others are thinking.”
“Don't focus too much on how I'm feeling and remember that my point-of-view is just one point-of-view,” she said.
Her personal favorite is titled “Bank of Guam Parking Lot,” which she said was inspired by “a happy, carefree woman—the kind of woman I want to be.”
“I am always inspired by strong, sophisticated, confident CHamoru and Micronesian women,” Salinas said. “They make me want to be a better person for my island.”
Salinas turns to poetry when she experiences trouble expressing herself otherwise. When she feels no one cares about her feelings, she thinks to herself, “OK, I better turn this into a poem rather than just complain.”
Salinas has been writing poetry for 15 years. Her body of work has been published in Storyboard, the University of Guam’s literary journal, and Indigenous Literatures from Micronesia.
“Johanna’s New Normal” offers insight into Salinas’ imagination and consciousness. It includes a tender note to readers on page 3. “For readers who may feel like they are trapped in themselves and life is going nowhere,” she writes, “I want you to know that I believe in you.”
She hopes readers find a laugh and a smile in the magazine. “And maybe a little bit of cringe, because, yes, there is some cringe in here,” Salinas said with a good-natured laugh. “We can cringe together.”