In Review: sad horse music by Samantha Fain

In sad horse music, out from Daily Drunk Magazine, Samantha Fain writes about and in the world of Bojack Horseman, a show that makes me feel like shit; these poems make me go “aahh yes, this is a good articulation of feeling like shit”; I make both of these comments in the most loving way. My way to this chapbook was through a tweet Fain had posted in anticipation of its release:

I was honestly sold, right then and there—I followed Fain and once she tweeted about hard copies of the chapbook, I asked for one. I got the giant-trim, midnight-cover book a few weeks later, and was even more invested.

On the surface, Bojack Horseman is, frankly, ridiculous. It is the sad horse show where there are people-animals with no explanation; all you need to do is let your imagination go in order to be sucked into the satirical, emotionally-devastating world it gives. sad horse music, too, is a magic trick of emotion.Approved by Bojack showrunner Raphael Bob-Waksberg himself, sad horse music expounds on the visual decadence of Bojack by way of poetic form. Each poem takes on a visibly distinct look, branching from a particular quote, character, or plot point into a similar emotional resonance.

sad horse music functions both as an ode to the show and as a body of work written within the fabric of the Bojack universe itself; the poem “Rose-Colored Glasses” captures this simultaneity best of all. An infamous line voiced by Lisa Kudrow, “You know, it’s funny…when you look at someone through rose-colored glasses, all the red flags just look like flags,” has circulated across the internet both as hard-hitting advice and therapy meme; Fain’s poem pulls from that gorgeous, gorgeous line and extrapolates its own quiet hurt:

“The faith wasn’t foolish
until you kept it.
You folded your hands
until they churched”

Sometimes, I think, very emotionally poignant moments from television or film can be bastardized into corniness with the way they circulate on the internet—I am reminded of a moment in WandaVision—but this poem recenters that haunting line with language of its own.

“Golden Shovel for Diane,” too, takes one of the show’s highly quotable moments and reshuffles it towards another emotional clarity. What does “sometimes, life’s a bitch and then you keep living” look like to those who receive that message? The golden shovel, a form of an ode that borrows lines from an existing poem as the ending word of each line, operates brilliantly as a container for Fain’s work. Fain writes, “you want to die / curdle up / explain how / sometimes / your body feels unyours”, ending with “how do you keep / the balance / between want and need / is it worth all the living”; here, the question remains within the instruction, character and audience communicating back and forth. Part of what works with regards to Bojack for myself and others who also love the show is the terror when we see ourselves in Bojack, or in other characters who are in pain—there is a raw reflection of depression, with no bright colors to soften that depiction of reality. This poem echoes that experience of an audience sitting in that recognition and wondering, how do we move forward?

I have always been deeply ingrained in fandom spaces, consuming art and writing inspired by other art. Reading fanfiction and pushing on the boundaries of established canons is second-nature to me, but despite this and my parallel love of poetry, I find it rare to encounter poetry that identifies as a fan-work. There are projects I love that almost feel in this vein; Lip Manegio’s We’ve All Seen Helena from GameOver Books is a good example, as their exploration of gender and fandom is impossible to separate in their collection of incredible poems to and about Gerard Way. Similarly, Marlin M. Jenkins Capable Monsters from Bull City Press, too, is a personal favorite. Jenkins unravels something integral to his childhood—Pokemon—and from it extracts the escapism that games offer us when we are otherwise occupied by depression and other ills of the world. Neither project is a fan-work, per se, but both feel at home with their source material; Fain’s chapbook, too, is successful in pulling apart what it is that we, as audiences and fans, enjoy about the piece of media, and recreating that feeling into poetry. At first, I was disappointed that the pastiche play on the Frank O’Hara poem “Lana Turner Has Collapsed” from Fain’s tweet did not appear in sad horse music, nor were there poems that felt like its analog; however, for the scope of the project, it made sense. The poems sought not to emulate all of Bojack, rather borrow from the core of why we like it and make poems from that appeal.

sad horse music is available as a free PDF on The Daily Drunk’s website; although it is not positioned as a fan-work, the vast majority of fan-works are distributed this way, too; the accessibility of this collection only adds to the enjoyment and the indulgence; it is a work born from the love of an excellent piece of television—it only makes sense the final product would be, too.

(THE DAILY DRUNK, POETRY, ePDF, 2021)


Summer Farah is a Palestinian American poet and editor. She co-writes the biweekly newsletter Letters to Summer. Summer is a 2019 RAWI WHAAS fellow. Her work has been published in MiznaLitHubhooligan mag, and other places. You can connect with her on Twitter @summabis.

Vagabond City Literary Journal

Founded in 2013, we are a literary journal dedicated to publishing outsider literature. We publish art, poetry, and creative nonfiction from marginalized creators.