The Astonishment is the moniker of Russian-born Marianna Limno, but although it’s her stage name and image on the cover and she delivers the poems on this spoken word album, the words were written by James Crippa, an expatriate Brit residing in Los Angeles. I found this surprising as most spoken word artists perform and record their own pieces, and also because a few of the tracks deal with sex and dating from a female point of view. Limno’s distinctive Russian-inflected voice is both a blessing and occasionally a curse. Often it lends an international import to the spoken lines, but in several cases her pronunciation is inadvertently humorous or unintelligible.
“Red White & 2 Blue” is the story of a coal miner with a pulmonary infection fighting for medical and Social Security benefits. While the story is disturbingly real, the constructions are somewhat stilted: “Government of mine, don’t leave me behind... the question is my life, money and my pension.” Almost all of the twenty-nine tracks are in rhyme, which makes them more musical and memorable, but can lead to strange phrasing and occasional clunky lines.
“An American” makes good use of everyday details as Limno chronicles a typical day in the United States. “Wake up at 6 a.m... the kids are ready, French toast, coffee... two cars in the driveway…then off to work, school... at work at nine... a computer terminal... work ends at five... remember, the boss is always right... rush hour traffic, the highway jammed... my good work everyone ignores... to the video store, movie and popcorn... late night TV, news and comedy.” Later she gives us a portrait of play time in the U.S: “a barbeque... Monday night football, a trip to the mall, playtime in Vegas.” I saw the piece both as a comment on the banality of daily life and the joy one finds in small everyday moments.
“Eve Knows” retells the Garden of Eden story, recasting her supposed fall from grace as a quest for knowledge. “Eve knows the serpent is astute, / the apple from the tree of knowledge...I am that knowledge / Let me spread my fruit to the mute, the deaf and dumb / I am the fruit that cures the mute.” Limno's powerful delivery makes the tale fresh and compelling.
“Power to the People” is a call for collective action in the face of governmental and corporate corruption. While this type of protest piece has been done before, the words are nevertheless inspiring. “Power to the people... Don’t give it away, take a hold... let it unfold, start from below... water it by night... Keep it inside, hold it, unfold it, iron it out... Let your voice be heard, don’t let it stray, keep it close to home.”
“Phoenix” delivers a surprising message: we are urged not to look to the mythical bird known for its rebirth for inspiration. “Condemn the Phoenix to his place: a myth... Immortal we are not, ashes the end, fire not the start.” It's a viewpoint I'd never considered, but I appreciated the emphasis on human frailty and mortality. Some situations are final and we cannot always start anew.
The overall theme of Banana Sandwich is striving towards a better world, both communally and individually. Crippa references biblical battles, the Roman gods, bullfighting, Martin Luther King, Jr., Lenin, and the fall of the Berlin Wall, among other topics, and his work includes many original metaphors and images. Poetry lovers looking for a modern, realistic yet optimistic take on the world today will find much to admire.