Two elements of form that you can use in poetry are word count and syllable count. They are similar in some ways and different in others. Both have their uses in poetry expression.
Both word count and syllable count can be utilized in different ways in a poem. One way that might seem most common, would be using word or syllable count per line. A poet could also use ideas such as word or syllable count per stanza and total word or syllable count in the poem.
Within a poem, word and syllable count can be varied. For example, some lines can have one syllable count and other lines another. Additionally, word and syllable count can be combined in the same poem.
Depending on circumstances, word count can be easier to use for a poet. If a poet is just starting out with poetry, word count can seem clearer. There are potentially fewer gray areas than with syllable count. Some words, for example, can have multiple syllable counts depending on how they are pronounced. Also, word count doesn’t have to be “heard” in the same way as syllable count, which can make it easier to use. Additionally, word count can be easier because it can be tallied by a computer.
If a poet is counting syllables or words in a poem themselves, syllable count could actually be easier to use depending on circumstances. A poet used to working with syllables, might be able to “hear” each syllable and be able to count them with more ease than they could count words. As stated above, the opposite might be true if a poet wasn’t used to working with syllables.
One drawback to word count, is that word count isn’t as clear an indicator of length as syllable count. How long it takes to say something is more determined by the number of syllables than the number of words. In any line, the number of syllables will be greater than or equal to the number of words within the line.
Syllable count has another advantage, in that it can be paired with meter. When having a poem with beat, syllable count is in the basis of it.
Syllable count and word count can have a number of effects on poetry expression depending on the ways they are used. Some examples include:
Same word or syllable count per line:
If each line in a poem is the same length in terms of words or syllables, this can add predictability of sound to a poem. This can increase the “poetic sound” the poem has. This effect is greater with syllable count than with word count because of the way each impacts the sound of line length.
One word lines:
Having certain lines in a poem contain one word can have an impact on a poem. Having the words set apart can increase their emphasis.
Syllable count and meter:
Meter adds beat to a poem. By its structure, it is based off of syllable count.
Using word count for the visual look on a page:
Word count can be used if a poet wants a poem to appear a certain way on a page. For example, imagine a poem with the following word counts per line: 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 4, 3, 2, 1. This would look to the reader as increasing words then decreasing words. This visual look, as well as others that could be obtained with different structures, might be something a poet wants as part of their expression.
Short line, stanza or overall poem length:
If a poet uses syllable or word count to have short lines, stanzas or overall poem length, this can have an impact on the expression in the poem.
If used correctly, brevity, in each of the instances, can increase the impact of the poem. In some ways, it goes along the lines of “less is more”. If a poet is brief in the correct way, they can say just enough to get the point across and increase the impact of the point.
Long line, stanza or overall poem length:
If a poet makes aspects of a poem (or the entire poem) long, this also can have an effect on the expression.
Individual long lines, can stress a point. A longer overall poem, can give the poet an opportunity to have a more significant feel to the expression. In some way, by using a longer length, a poet can make a poem more like a song, than a statement.
Longer overall stanza and poem length also gives the poet the opportunity to use repeats and refrains. This can add emphasis to ideas in a poem.
Word and syllable count can be used when a experimenting with poetry forms. A poet can try different structures to see how they impact expression. For example, a poet can have one poem where they alternate long and short lines, and another poem, where the lines have a more complicated count pattern. The poet can use the experimentations to learn about different ways to express ideas.