Playing With Rhythm And Sound | Kerry Hammerton How-to    
Mon, 16 October 2023

When you listen to adults talk about poetry, it is easy to imagine that this is a very serious affair, best left to experts.
But almost any child learning a nursery rhyme instinctively enjoys the sound of its rhymes, without ever being aware that it is poetry. It is not difficult for grown-ups to find their way back to this playfulness and to have a totally different experience of reading and writing poetry.
As poets across the country prepare to submit their finest efforts to the annual AVBOB Poetry Competition, we feature advice from Kerry Hammerton, a poet and freelance tutor and supervisor in the Rhodes Masters Creative Writing programme. Hammerton has published four witty, exhilarating poetry collections, most recently afterwards (Karavan Press, 2023), and has been praised for the “flawless diction” of her work.
Below are a few of her ideas to inspire playful poems of your own:
“For me poetry is about rhythm and sound, how you use words to convey feeling and meaning. An exercise that you can do to help create an inner sense of rhythm and sound is to take a long word – one of those clunky Latin words that are found in English maybe – and to write down other words inside the word, and then to find words that rhyme with that word, not just end rhymes but internal rhymes, and then, finally, to write down words that are suggested to you while you are doing this exercise.
“Those last words don’t have to make sense to anyone but you. (This exercise comes from British poet, Jo Bell).
“Let’s take ‘aberration’ as an example, here are some ideas:
   1. Words within: ration, tribe, bear, bate, train… 
   2. Rhyming words: burr, rotation, ray, angry…
   3. Words that were suggested to me: berry, forest, fly, fear…
“A poem may come out of the words and your musings, or it may not!
“My own creativity often comes in the tension between two ideas or concepts. When you wake up in the morning or start your morning commute or even when you walk into your favourite coffee shop to write, take note of two things:
   1. What is the first thing you hear?
   2. What is the first thing you see

How can these two things suggest a poem to you?

“Lists make great poems! Make a list of your favourite things to eat or favourite places to go. Two of my list poems are titled ‘Things you can’t pack in a suitcase’ and ‘Things I have left behind in hotel rooms’. Use one of these titles to create your own list poem. 
“Who are your favourite poets? Do you have a favourite poem? A favourite line in one of those poems? Take that line and use it as a first line for your own poem.
“Here is a final exercise you can use to create a poem or as a warm-up exercise: take an abstract concept like honesty or grief or love and ask yourself, ‘If it had a smell, what would it smell like? If it had a taste, what would it taste like? If I could feel it on my skin, what kind of texture would it have? If it made a sound, what would that sound be? If it were visible, what would it look like?’”
In the next few days, write a poem in which you play with rhythms and sounds that move or excite you. Don’t feel that you have to start with a strong idea. See what happens when you simply play with rhythm and sound.
Remember that the AVBOB Poetry Competition reopened on 1 August 2023. Visit our website regularly at for editing tips and advice as well as updates about upcoming workshops.