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Magnetic poetry attracts new fans
By Marisa Helms
Minnesota Public Radio
December 24, 2001
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What started as a time-consuming obsession for a Minnesota songwriter is now a staple on the American refrigerator. Magnetic poetry has grown into a $7-million-a-year company in Northeast Minneapolis.

St. Paul Mayor-elect Randy Kelly manipulates some Magnetic Poetry into a vision ... or something. See the results.
(MPR Photo/Marisa Helms)

Magnetic Poetry inventor Dave Kappell says it's just a bunch of words stuck to your refrigerator.

"And then you fiddle, you switch around a couple of tiles, and you look and, oh my, that is something and pretty soon you're drawn into it and you've created something that's led you into a weird part of your mind that you never knew existed, and has made you consider the world in a different way," he says.

You could say Kappell sneezed himself his first million dollars when he invented Magnetic Poetry.

When he started writing songs in the early '90s, he could get the melody, but had trouble with the lyrics. So, he cut up words from the newspaper and rearranged them to write a lyric. After a sneeze sent his paper lyrics fluttering away, Magnetic Poetry was born. He figured out how to make the words stick, at least temporarily, with magnets onto a cookie sheet, and then the fridge.

Minneapolis Mayor-elect R.T. Rybak says Magnetic Poetry is like "painting by numbers, but they don't give you the numbers." See his effort.
(MPRPhoto/Marisa Helms)

The basic Magnetic Poetry kit costs about $20 and comes with more than 400 words. The product has made cameo appearances on "Seinfeld" and in movies including "Conspiracy Theory" and "Notting Hill."

In fact, those little word tiles have become ubiquitous in popular culture. There are specialized kits for dog lovers, cat lovers. There's a genius edition, and tiles in foreign languages including French, Italian and Yiddish.

Kappell believes the lasting popularity of Magnetic Poetry is rooted in the human desire to communicate. "Language is really what defines us. We're born with a love of words and language. We're hard-wired to want to play with words," he says.

The vision statement for Magnetic Poetry - the company - is to help people find creative parts of themselves they never knew existed.

Few can escape it. "The title of my poem is: Sing Frantically a Dream," Minneapolis Mayor-elect R.T. Rybak proclaimed recently.

Recall pictures in soaring moments
...say enormous
... smell shadow symphonies tonight.

"It's a little bit like painting by numbers, but they didn't give you the numbers," Rybak said.

Next at the poetry board, St. Paul Mayor-elect, Randy Kelly with A Symphony Of The Moment.

If we want to celebrate
... we must elaborate
incubate and then create...
a chocolate shake.

"It's a sort of a frivolous opportunity to rhyme things that end in rate," Kelly suggests.

The mayors-elect are showing some real literary talent, according to Minnesota poet and University of Minnesota professor Michael Dennis Browne.

"They could have been more staid. They could have been wilder. They're kind of a mix of both. And if they're going to legislate this way, I don't think it will be dull under their leadership," Browne says.

Browne says play is an essential component of accessing creativity. And that's why Magnetic Poetry can be both inspiring and useful, whether your end goal is a poem or a political speech.

"You want to say something large and stirring, but you can't just snap your fingers and have it. You have to draw it to the surface with play like this," he says.

Next time you see magnetic word tiles stuck to a friend's fridge, move 'em around. Don't be intimidated. You don't have to sign your name to it. Look at the words as inventor David Kappell does - training wheels for bringing out the poet in each of us.