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Poetry on the Fridge: a Magnetic Notion

ASSOCIATED PRESS

A Nirvana CD blasts away, inciting workers near a loading dock to dance. In an office not far away, a young man waltzes with a life-size sculpture of a woman.

Despite appearances, there’s a successful business run here, albeit one as unconventional as its surroundings. The company is Magnetic Poetry, turning out kits that let would-be Robert Frosts, Emily Dickinsons and Allen Ginsbergs compose verse on their refrigerators.

Owner Dave Kapell--the man partnering the sculpture--is a singer, songwriter and rock band member determined to “give poetry back to the people.”

Kapell is shipping about 50,000 kits--each one containing about 470 words on magnetic strips--every month, with projected sales this year of $7 million to $9 million. There’s a beginner kit, a sequel, a romance version and a kids’ kit.

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The legend of Magnetic Poetry’s origin goes like this: Kapell would rearrange words cut from magazines to work through writer’s block while composing songs. But he has allergies, and would sneeze the words away. It occurred to him to stabilize the words on magnets given to him by a roommate.

Kapell’s friends loved playing with the words on his refrigerator. The portable poetry became a hit at parties. “Instead of bringing a bottle of wine, I’d bring a kit,” he said.

In 1993, he brought his first 100 kits to a craft fair. They sold in three hours.

Kapell, 33, said he’s selling the idea that anyone can write poetry, not just coffeehouse cats in berets. “We need more tools in our society for average people to feel permission to be creative,” said Kapell, a University of Minnesota English graduate.

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It’s a noble mission, according to Minneapolis poet and author Alexs Pate.

“There are a lot of people with poetry going around in their heads all the time who have no time or facility to get it out,” said Pate. “Anything that gives validity to those ideas is good.”

Even U.S. Poet Laureate Robert Hass praises the poetry that sticks.

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“It’s one-man Scrabble and the prize is insight,” Hass said.

People often put the words together in juxtapositions they otherwise would never have imagined, such as “I sing enormously” or “rusted lake.”

“What you get is this wild, crazy, really incredibly honest moment,” Pate said.

But Magnetic Poetry doesn’t attract everyone. Author and poet Robert Bly said Magnetic Poetry does little to teach poetry writing.

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“It shows how wonderful and eccentric language is, but on the other hand, poetry is written in a state that is deeper, more inside your emotions,” said Bly.

One fact that’s indisputable is poetry’s popularity in America today, especially among young people. They’re going to coffeehouses, bookstores, even the Mall of America for poetry readings. It suggests a longing for human communication in a technological society, poets say.

Magnetic Poetry attracts youth bored with technology’s tendency to suppress the imagination, said Jonathan Galassi, president of the Academy of American Poets.

“So much of entertainment today is formula,” Galassi said. “This allows them to think for themselves.”

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Kapell likes to tell the story of a woman who discovered her creative side while using Magnetic Poetry--at age 85.

Then there’s the kids. At a National Poetry Month celebration at the Mall of America in April, children crawled on the floor among giant-sized words from a special Magnetic Poetry kit, assembling imaginative poems.

So where does the crusading Kapell go from here?

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“My vision in the long run is Legos with words,” said Kapell, referring to the building-block toy’s staying power.

But he won’t fret if Magnetic Poetry’s appeal peters out. He never expected to be heading a booming business.

Besides, he’d like to spend more time with his wife and infant son. Not to mention his band, which despite not having a name recently made a CD.

“I sort of fantasize about when I will get a two-week vacation to lay on a dock or something,” said Kapell.

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For now, there’s a poetry revolution to lead.


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