Mordecai Martin sits down with Samantha Fain, author of Sad Horse Music (Daily Drunk), to discuss her newest BoJack Horseman based poetry chapbook.
MM: Sad Horse Music is a chap of poems about the show Bojack Horseman, and the emotional lives of its characters as you see them. Besides the show itself, what are you trying to weave into these poems? Why is poetry the way you needed to express your appreciation or fandom of the show and your understanding of it?
SF: I think if I’d written a preface for sad horse music, it would’ve answered the second question: I wrote poetry based around bojack because the show was a vehicle for me to explore my own grief. I was obsessed with the show for so many years, and it both harmed me and helped me, and it just became something I felt I had to write towards. One of the main themes I’m trying to integrate into the poems (besides grief) is this idea of redemption—the show makes me grapple with that idea a lot. When I wrote the poems I was floating through questions like “Is redemption inherent to humanity?” “Can any act be redeemed?” I’m not sure if I answered those in the little book, but it’s what I was working towards unearthing.
MM: Answers are overrated, but working toward something is very good, as the book shows, I think. What was the process of writing the poems and how did it relate to your progress through the show? Were all the poems written after you had watched the whole show? If not, did your attitude towards the poems change after the progress of the narrative?
SF: The process was a little estranged at first! I was really nervous about writing into my obsession. I started the poems in undergrad and was so nervous to show them to anyone, so I didn’t make much progress on them. It wasn’t until I mentioned them to my mentor, Callista Buchen, that I started really writing them. She really supported the work I was doing even though it felt ridiculous at the time, and she convinced me to bring them to the workshop. A few of the poems were drafted before I’d finished the show, but most were completed right around the time I finished watching it—that was when I realized how many poems I had altogether and how intrigued by the show I really was! I think the progress of the poems relates more to the progress of me emotionally journeying through the show than it does me physically watching the show—those feel like two very different processes, and the first one feels never-ending
MM: When we explore a piece of art with our whole selves, it’s a long process, sometimes life long. You mentioned just now an insecurity in how you felt about the poems themselves, the work you were producing based on the show. Can you talk a little more about how you built confidence in the legitimacy of the work? Did you end up believing in a sort of poetics of fandom more broadly? Or do you think this is a unique piece of art that required a unique response?
SF: I think I still struggle with feeling like the work is legitimate at times, honestly, but writing sad horse music did help me believe in a greater poetics of fandom more broadly! I think it’s all contemporary ekphrasis—maybe that term’s too loose but I find it to be true. We write about the art that inspires us. and sometimes starting that conversation feels more important than the ultimate craft of the work we do, too, I think. I’ve said before that I don’t think sad horse music is necessarily my best work on a craft level—but I do think it’s me at my finest in achieving a certain emotional tone and writing about my passions. Seeing how others reacted to the pieces helped me feel better about them overall as well. The creator of bojack (Raphael Bob-Waksberg) promoting my book and asking for his own copy did give me some external validation, too. I don’t think the response that’s required is really unique. I think it’s one that should happen more often. I am definitely pro-pop culture poetry and am loving the growing number of works I see related to it appearing lately.
MM: The pop culture poetry moment is very interesting to me, I think largely because my wife is not from the United States and is largely unplugged into a variety of references that are very common. I also have been watching less and less recent media, just because I seem to have lost the knack for watching television and movies on a small screen. So I feel pretty disconnected to pop culture, but there is all this interesting pop culture poetry coming out. I think it’s legitimate and interesting poetry, but what do you think your chap specifically or pop poetry more broadly offers a reader without the references?
SF: I’ve been thinking about that for a while—what’re people who aren’t watching the show getting out of my book without the references? I’d say general devastation. Not to get too sad, but sad horse music definitely has a voice to it, one that stands on its own in terms of how it handles its grief throughout its pages. It may be too niche at times, I’m sure, but overall I think its goals are the same as those without a tv show backdropped in it: to (maybe re)create characters and a world that describes how they live beside or with their sadness.
MM: I think that’s a pretty good feel for what I got out of it as someone who hasn’t watched the show. The grief involved feels like an ensemble cast, in some ways. There is the grief of failure, the grief of succeeding but wondering if you deserve it, the grief of loss, the grief of hating yourself. I know enough about the show to know some of this comes from the narrative, but where do you pull from to get those diverse emotions into the work? And how do you care for yourself as you do so?
SF: As someone who knows a lot of different types of sadness, it wasn’t too hard to fuse the poems with my own grief as well. My first chapbook, Coughing Up Planets, dealt a lot with my own mental health. So a lot of those feelings embedded in sad horse music are an extension of the ones I hadn’t entirely written myself out of before, if it’s possible to write yourself out of that stuff—I don’t think it is! As for taking care of myself while writing the poems . . . It’s really hard. It’s a hard headspace to be in! Sometimes I had to stop watching the show and writing the poems in order to take a breather, because I’d gotten myself in too deep. I cried sometimes. I laughed sometimes. I was told to stop watching the show by everyone who loved me, and I didn’t listen!
MM: Wow, in too deep with Bojack Horseman. It happens! Along those lines, does the work itself end up feeling redemptive of those dark moments? Do you feel it was “worth it” to come out with the poems? Or is that not the framework?
SF: It does! I’m glad I was able to finish the book and put it out there. I think it was worth it to come out with the poems, but I’d also say that wasn’t the framework. The framework it IS is still a framework I’m working on right now, so I’m possibly in too deep to describe the mindset still. Again, it may not end. It’s the process of comprehending where I’m at emotionally and what I’ve said already. I’m still constantly processing the show. I’m trying to write an essay about it now, but I’m the essay, I’m doing this, I’m investigating why the show has impacted me this much, what I’ve gleaned from it, how it relates to the other pop culture I’m invested in, etc.
MM: That sounds interesting. Will it involve more biography/memoir work? In a way, that biography is curiously lacking in the poems in the chap, you sort of fade into the background. Was that intentional?
SF: More of me being present is what I’m hoping for! Memoir might be hard, but I’m going to try it. I’m trying to use this idea of not knowing who you are without your mental illnesses paired with bojack as the crux of the essay, so we’ll see what happens. As for sad horse music, I wanted the characters to speak instead of me. They’re the centers, and I’m just the ghostwriter
MM: I usually like to end with you asking ME a question, that I can answer and then turn over to our audience. What would you like to ask?
SF: Lately I’ve been loving mixing pop culture references in my head. bojack’s quote “you didn’t know me. Then you fell in love with me. And now you know me” reminds me of when Band of Horses sang “to know me as hardly golden / is to know me all wrong.” I’d be interested in hearing others’ favorite bojack quotes. How have they impacted you? What songs, quotes, lyrics, do they remind you of?
MM: Interesting! So I have limited knowledge of the show, as I’ve said, but I was a big fan of (paraphrasing) Todd’s “you can’t just keep apologizing, you have to be better!” That quote, and in general Bojack’s dangerous game of alienating everyone in his life, reminds me of Twin Sized Mattress by the Front Bottoms. But I wonder what everyone else will say?
Samantha Fain is a poet from Indiana. She currently resides in Ohio. Her first chapbook, Coughing Up Planets, debuted with Vegetarian Alcoholic Press in March of 2021. Her microchapbook, sad horse music, debuted with The Daily Drunk in May of 2021. She tweets at @smnthfn