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Magnetic Appeal

Do-it-yourself poetry

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These days, everybody’s not only a critic but, thanks to Dave Kapell, also a poet. The 34-year-old entrepreneur and part-time bard has swelled verse-maker ranks to bursting with his $19.95 Magnetic Poetry Kits, those movable word tiles that now embellish more than a million fridges, including the one in — bonjour, success! — Jerry Seinfeld’s TV kitchen.

Now Kapell finds himself all jumbled up in National Poetry Month, the 30-day lyric love-in fostered by New York’s Academy of American Poets. As one of April’s many consciousness-raising events, Kapell will collaborate with the Washington-based American Poetry & Literacy Project, a Gideon Bible-style distributor of Emily Dickinson et al. to the general populace. The two will produce 8- by 20-foot Magnetic Poetry Walls — public refrigerators, if you will — in six major cities. The choicest works to ensue from wandering passers-by may ultimately become part of a collection of magnetic poems that Workman Publishing has already started assembling for release next fall. ”One woman set herself the task of making a poem using every word in the kit,” shares the book’s editor, Anne Kostick. ”It’s remarkably good, considering the circumstances.”

Resourceful, certainly, but can ”MagPo,” as it’s termed by industry insiders, ever compare to, say, T.S. Eliot’s The Waste Land, which enjoys its 75th anniversary this year? Career poets (keep in mind that virtually no poet earns a living by words alone) aren’t so sure. ”I don’t want to say that people are bozos because they play with it,” says Thomas Lux, 50 (8 published volumes of poetry; teaches at Sarah Lawrence College), of the Kit. ”But games alone don’t make good poetry.” Sam Hamill, 54 (10 volumes; edits Copper Canyon Press), is more succinct. ”Poetry involves having an ear, a sense of rhythm. It has nothing to do with little magnetic stickies.”

AAP reps, for their part, don’t have very much to say about MagPo — not surprisingly, since its founder helps underwrite their baby, the annual poetry-fest. But Kapell, using colorful adjectives not found in our sample kit, calls the AAP ”a really crusty, moldy old group of professors.”

Sheesh — maybe April really is, to borrow a line from Eliot, ”the cruellest month.”

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