Poet Yesika Salgado Gets Real About Writer's Block, Heartbreaking Success, and Going Back to Therapy

Pablo Simental
Pablo Simental

After the professional whirlwind of writing three critically acclaimed poetry books in a two-year span, Yesika Salgado now has the luxury of slowing down and tasting the mangoes. For Salgado, changing her once neck-breaking pace has been a challenge that has completely changed her relationship with herself and with her writing. Salgado's first book, affectionately named "Corazon," tells the story of yearning for romantic love yet finding love outside of romance. Her second Book "Tesoro" recounts having to survive machismo and the men we've loved; and her final book "Hermosa" is all about growth.

Salgado, 39, is a commanding voice in contemporary poetry. She is a two-time National Poetry Slam finalist, a Long Beach Slam Champion, and a recipient of the 2020 International Latino Book Award in Poetry. The Salvadorian-American writer's first book of poems is an acclaimed cult classic, taught in both college courses and high school English classes. Despite having two beloved books under her belt, writer's block and self-doubt still crept in while Salgado wrote her third book "Hermosa."

Salgado shares she had fears that the second and third books would never measure up to the success of her first book.

"When you're a writer, the question is always 'What's next?' And every time I get asked that question, I'm like, am I gonna lie to you and tell you I'm working on this big old manuscript? Or am I gonna tell you the truth that I don't know what the f*ck— I'm stuck," Salgado tells POPSUGAR with a laugh. "'Corazon' was such a loved and well-received book that you're tempted to re-create it, but the writer than I am doesn't want to keep telling the same story."

After hustling hard for three years straight, the high from her achievements came to a halt when the pandemic forced her to slow down and process the unexamined emotional chaos that came with her success.

"Failure sucks, right? And it hurts, it's a heartbreak. But success is a different kind of heartbreak no one ever tells you about."

"Failure sucks, right? And it hurts, it's a heartbreak. But success is a different kind of heartbreak no one ever tells you about," Salgado shares. "I think a lot of times many of us, especially us children of migrant people or [those] who grow up in poverty, we think we're only as good as the work we're producing at the moment . . . And it's like, no, that's the whole goal for all of us is to be successful enough where our work is the work we want to do, not the work we feel we have to do."

From 2017 to 2019, Salgado experienced many hardships including a heartbreaking miscarriage, a leg infection that caused tissue and nerve damage, losing and outgrowing friendships, followed by exhaustion. During this time, she also realized she wasn't properly caring for her bipolar disorder. All of this went on as she wrote feverishly, traveled, met fans, read to audiences, and put on a good face to receive the fruits of her labor.

"When 'Corazon' was being released, I didn't know I was pregnant, and shortly after I found out, it was this whole thing where either I was going to have an abortion or not," she says. "I've had miscarriages before, and this pregnancy lasted longer than any other miscarriage I had."

Right before making a decision, Salgado miscarried and immediately threw herself into her work, focused on her tour dates. "I was relieved that it happened between tour dates, and then I hit the road again . . . I was going through one thing after the other, and I was like 'It's cool, we're gonna keep pushing, because I am living my dream, and this is what I always wanted — to release a book and stop working at CVS."

When Salgado finally examined what had happened over the course of her book releases, she realized she needed to reframe and recoup.

"There was all this stuff that I was carrying that I wasn't allowing myself to process, and then lockdown came, and I kind of looked around, and I was like, 'Oh, there are some things in me that are not OK,'" she shares. "There was some regression in behavior that was starting to happen, so then I realized I needed to go back to therapy."

But lockdown wasn't necessarily a welcome break. Salgado confesses that not working and the change in her routine sent her into a depression and, eventually, a journey to find how she could have a better relationship with herself and with her writing.

"I didn't realize I was running away through work. I had to do some really real shadow work during that time," she says. "My depression and all these things caught up with me . . . It was really rough, and I wish that I would have asked folks to support me, but it was like, I'm supposed to be happy because I have everything I've ever wanted, and I can't not be happy."

Now, three years after "Hermosa," Salgado is taking her time and is working on new projects at her pace. She is also expanding her writing outside the margins of poetry and is currently planning to make the jump into TV and film writing, as well as some short stories. She's even considering writing a novel one day.

"I'm down to roll my sleeves up and figure something out, I know that there are many different stories that sometimes can't exist in poems, they have to be told in other ways," she says. "I think I'm going to the next thing. I want to try short stories, and maybe once I get a good handle on short stories, I might be like 'Hey I can write a novel. I got one somewhere in here, who knows."