The big attraction for Magnetic Poetry this slender book teaches about summer showers mornings with red bouquets love so blue


Behold a poem that, admittedly, won't win any prizes. But, hey, you do your best with what you've got. And what you get with the "Magnetic Poetry Book of Poetry" is about 100 sticky words to arrange into a poem.

The book, written with a co-author, is the latest creation from the man who came up with the idea of refrigerator verse called Magnetic Poetry. Magnetic Poetry is a craze somewhere along the lines of pet rocks, although, to be fair, this actually requires some creativity.

Magnetic Poetry kits (and now, the knockoffs of the original) are teensy words stuck to magnets. The typical kit has about 500 words. The idea is to stick the words randomly on a refrigerator, file cabinet or whatever works and then move them around until you create a poem.

Funny how good ideas are born. For Dave Kapell, it began with a rather lusty sneeze. And then there was the pizza connection.

Kapell was working at $7-an-hour jobs while also trying his hand at songwriting. "I write songs, and I get writer's block, and I have allergies," says Kapell, in a phone conversation from his home in Minnesota. "All that sort of converged."

Kapell was attempting to write a song one day in 1993 when writer's block hit. He was stuck. "One of the ways I get over writer's block is to cut up little pieces of paper with words on them," he says. That method seems to get his creative juices flowing. "Then I sneezed, and all the words scattered."

So Kapell said, "Hmmmm."

Germ of an idea

He certainly had a good time putting the words together into sentences, then scattering them around before rearranging them again.

"I had a roommate at the time who worked at a pizza place. There were magnets with the name of the pizza place on them. But the name had been misspelled. She brought the magnets home and asked me if I could use them for anything."

Kapell said, "Hmmmm."

He cut the magnets up into small pieces, then glued the words on them. "I used a cookie sheet to stick the magnets on. But then it moved from a cookie sheet to the refrigerator." Kapell's friends loved the idea and got him to make up a batch of sticky words for them. Then he began selling the kits at craft fairs. The kits were hugely popular.

Once again, Kapell said, "Hmmmm."

"I got independent sales reps to sell the kits."

Magnetic Poetry kits can be found in book stores, toy stores, craft shows. Now there are supplemental Magnetic Poetry kits and specialized ones. The former can be a kit with a lot of pronouns in it. The latter includes kits with words in different languages or with specific themes, such as politics.

The little words stuck to magnets have been good to him indeed.

Before Kapell had the sneeze that changed his life, he was too broke to afford a car and always had roommates.

"I no longer have roommates. I have a wife and a kid and a car," says the 35-year-old Kapell.

Magnetic Poetry is a registered trademark, but the idea is not patentable, he says. That means knockoffs, like "MagnePoem." But he's expanding his empire with the Magnetic Poetry book, co-written with Sally Steenland.

A big fan

"I bought a kit about three years ago, and I am one of the biggest fans of magnetic poetry," says Steenland, a writer. "For me, it is a creative 'un-blocker.' It's a wonderful way of unsticking my brain.

"I thought, I bet there are really good things on the refrigerator doors across America, and wouldn't it be fun if we could collect some?" So Steenland called Kapell.

They solicited poems through magazine ads and were inundated with material. The book is divided into chapter headings, such as "Beginnings," "Companions" and "Maxims." U.S. Poet Laureate Robert Pinsky wrote the introduction to the book.

"When you see these little words scattered on the refrigerator door, and feel a desire to shuffle them around, you are responding to some of the deepest urges in the human animal. That itch to change things as they are into something different and the related itch to play with meaning seem to characterize us as a species," Pinsky writes.

The poems in the book go from simple and joyous to sad and sublime.

Kate Throop creates a poem about her brother, who died in a car accident. "So far, I haven't been able to write another poem, but I am optimistic that if I stand by the fridge patiently and with an open mind and heart, the poems will come," she writes in a preamble to the poem.

The last four lines of the poem are:

worshiping dreams the shadow recalls

time could fall panting as

it watches a lovely boy run after a sad

man and soar

Robert K. Ruby, 11, came up with:

Be hold I design me

The poetry can be a way of learning more about yourself or expressing deep feelings, Steenland says. "It's also for people who don't consider themselves poetic. It triggers word play."

Kapell has received some snide remarks from a few "serious" poets, but mostly the comments are positive.

"Poets are generally supportive," he says. "Most poets love to hear that people love to play with words."

Pub Date: 12/08/97

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