12/04/1995 at 01:00 AM EST
EUGENE O'NEILL MIGHT HAVE WRITTEN The Icebox Cometh. Robert Bolt might be remembered for Amana for All Seasons. Alas, neither playwright used Dave Kapell's Magnetic Poetry kits—boxes of more than 400 refrigerator magnets with words on them, suitable for arranging into lines of frost-free verse, or prose, or plays or whatever else a muse might suggest.
The possibilities, of course, are infinite, extending from the profound ("Let us go then, you and I...") to the mundane ("I've gone for milk"). The structurally minded might try Hot-point haiku. Mary Alexander, a banker in Evanston, Ill., used her kit to come up with:
Shadows drip beyond the rim of my dreams/raining sweet pink music upon the dawn.
Okay, Shakespeare it's not, but with sales of $2.5 million a year—and a spot on Seinfeld's refrigerator—Magnetic Poetry is making Kapell, 33, more money than most poets see.
Kapell, who grew up in Mahtomedi, Minn., stumbled onto his idea in 1993 while employed as an office worker for an organic-produce wholesaler in Minneapolis. A former English major and sometime songwriter, Kapell spent his spare time cutting up poems or newspaper articles and rearranging the words. "One of my roommates gave me a stack of refrigerator magnets," he says. "She thought I could use them." He did—gluing on words.
From there, it was a short step to taking 100 kits to an art fair at a shopping center, where, to Kapell's amazement, they sold out in two hours. "People would say, 'This would be the perfect gift for Fred. He's such a frustrated poet,' " says Kapell. Soon he was selling the $19.95 kits nationwide through museums and gift shops. Now, Kapell, who lives in Minneapolis with his wife, Joyce, 32, a legal advocate for battered women, and their 2-month-old son, Elias, is working on several sequels, including a musical version that has magnetic notes too.