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Tenso or Tenzone Tercet

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Explore the Craft of Writing Poetry

Italian Poetry


Tenso or Tenzone, is "an argument in formal verse", usually in the abstract. It is written as a verbal exchange almost like a competition. Although no specific structural pattern is prescribed, it is stanzaic with the formal frame at the discretion of the poet. It is often written in tercets or in sonnet form. The Tenso or Tenzone was popular among court troubadours in 12th century Italy in which two opponents would speak alternate stanzas. The looser French version of the Tenso is the Débat.


The Tenso or Tenzone is:

  • stanzaic, often written in tercets or the quatorzain of the sonnet, but ultimately the frame of the stanza including # of lines, meter and rhyme are at the discretion of the poet.
  • Sometimes the poem is written by two poets, taking opposing views.
  • an argument, an exchange of ideas from stanza to stanza.


    The Weighing by Rex Allen Brewer


    Son, we meet again the third time,

    convicted you owe your life,

    a life devoted full to crime.


    Sir, but what did he do? What hurt?

    A bicycle, a child's toy.

    No one lies dying in the dirt.


    A mother slaves the day and night.

    Buys her child a bike that's new.

    This man takes it. Can that be right?


    But Sir, must we not weigh the sin,

    to find the proper measure?

    No steel crime here, just worthless tin.


    Steel, it's true can pierce the heart,

    yet tin leaves a jagged wound.

    Law and Reason by Judi Van Gorder

    The law is set at three strikes,

    a third time felon serves life,

    it's meant to plug holes in dykes.


    Where is the room for reason?

    The crime is not measured by degree,

    the question begs a new season.


    Everyone deserves a second chance,

    but the people's patience stops at three.

    Crime is a boil that needs a lance.


    A life should not be thrown away,

    bad choices and mistakes are made,

    and circumstance confers a sway.


    Society sets its boundaries,

    sometimes at the cost of one.

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