ECKLEBURG BOOK CLUB | True, False, None of the Above by Marjorie Maddox

True, False, None of the Above poetically explores how books mark and mirror our lives and what it means to write, read, and teach literature in a world that—at turns—rejects, embraces, or shrugs indifferently at the spiritual.

What People Are Saying about True, False, None of the Above

“In True, False, None of the Above, Maddox offers us a brilliant, witty, and vulnerable garland of poems. Here is the voice of a teacher, a poet, a mother and wife, a woman of faith bearing witness to a deep and lasting Truth, summoning—among others—the likes of Dante, Hopkins, Dickinson, Eliot, and Frost, each calling out to the other, often at scintillant crosspurposes,
all set choiring to this magisterial teacher’s gentle bidding.” PAUL MARIANI, University Professor of English, Boston College; author of God and the Imagination: On Poets, Poetry, and the Ineffable

“In the preface to her book True, False, None of the Above, Maddox describes the experience of literature—whether reading, teaching, or creating it—as a ‘confrontation with reality.’ And her poems indeed confront a range of uneasy truths, from adultery and natural disasters to tooth extraction and raising teens. Maddox builds on the shared imagination of writers and readers, richly and deftly, to deepen and challenge our spirits.” TANIA RUNYAN, author of Second Sky

“In some of these poems, Marjorie Maddox riffs on the poetry of other writers. Sometimes she sings like an angel, even about illness and death. She wields forms brilliantly, and she tells delicious stories about what goes on in her classroom. Everybody who relishes good poetry should buy this book. But if you’re a teacher—or if you’ve ever sat in a classroom anywhere—True, False, None of the Above will make you laugh out loud.”
JEANNE MURRAY WALKER, Professor of English, University of Delaware; coeditor of Shadow & Light: Literature and the Life of Faith

Publisher’s Information

  • PUBLISHER: Cascade Books, Poeima Poetry Series
  • ISBN: 978-1-4982-3922-6
  • DIMENSIONS: 6 x 9
  • PAGES: 104]
  • PRICE: $14.00
  • RELEASE DATE: 04/07/2016

Recommended Works by Marjorie Maddox

Favorite Eckleburg Work:

Les Fauves by Barbara Crooker

Les Fauves is, as the title suggests, a collection of ekphrastic poetry, meditations on paintings from the Fauve and Post-Impressionist movements. But it also contains poetry’s equivalent to Fauvism, poems that take a walk on the wild side. There are language experiment poems, poems of word play, poems in form both usual (end rhymes, sonnets, ghazals) and unusual (abecedaries, traditional, embedded, and double helix), palindromes, anagrams, and word scrambles. Crazy word salad poems. Crooker’s subjects range widely, from living and working in a small village in the South of France, love in a long-term relationship, food as more than sustenance, faith in a secular age, grammar and usage, the pains and pleasures of the aging body. But always, what engages her most is what it means to be human on this fragile planet, at this time in our troubled history, still believing that “Beauty will save the world.” (Fyodor Dostoevsky). READ MORE

Winterkill by Todd Davis

In Winterkill, Todd Davis, who, according to Gray’s Sporting Journal, “observes nature in the great tradition of Robert Frost, James Dickey, and Jim Harrison,” offers an unflinching portrait of the cycles of birth and death in the woods and streams of Pennsylvania, while never leaving behind the tragedies and joys of the human world. Fusing narrative and lyrical impulses, in his fifth book of poetry Davis seeks to address the living world through a lens of transformation. In poems of praise and sorrow that draw upon the classical Chinese rivers-and-mountains tradition, Davis chronicles the creatures of forest and sky, of streams and lakes, moving through cycles of fecundity and lack, paying witness to the fundamental processes of the earth that offer the possibility of regeneration, even resurrection. Meditations on subjects from native brook trout to the ants that scramble up a compost pile; from a young diabetic girl burning trash in a barrel to a neighbor’s denial of global warming; from an examination of the bone structure in a rabbit’s skull to a depiction of a boy who can name every bird by its far-off song, these are poems that both celebrate and lament the perfectly imperfect world that sustains us. READ MORE

Discussion Questions for True, False, None of the Above

1. 1. In the book’s preface, Maddox talks about literature as a confrontation with rather than as an escape from reality. Where, in the poems, do you see evidence of this? What examples do you see where literature helps us confront our day-to-day lives? In what ways does the cover image help convey these ideas?

2. 2. Which poems show us the perspective of a student? Of a teacher? Of a writer? Where do such perspectives merge or overlap? What do such perspectives say about the process of reading or writing? About how we define “literature”?

3. 3. Where and in what ways does Maddox use humor? What effect does humor have on the overall collection?

About Marjorie Maddox

Sage Graduate Fellow of Cornell University (MFA) and Professor of English and Creative Writing at Lock Haven University, Marjorie Maddox has published eleven collections of poetry—including True, False, None of the Above; Local News from Someplace Else; Wives’ Tales; Transplant, Transport, Transubstantiation; and Perpendicular As I —the short story collection What She Was Saying (March 2017 Fomite Press), and over 500 stories, essays, and poems in journals and anthologies. Co-editor of Common Wealth: Contemporary Poets on Pennsylvania, she also has published four children’s books. For more information, please see

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True, False, None of the Above poetically explores how books mark and mirror our lives and what it means to write, read, and teach literature in a world that—at turns—rejects, embraces, or shrugs indifferently at the spiritual.

Six Degrees of Desperation

Heiwa_elementary_school_18_284Welcome to English Comp for compulsory. This is the first semester of your freshman year at George A Custer Community College.  In this class, it is understood that English has already lost the race for your attention. Aside from the usual cynicism, a history of failure may streak through your files like a comet in August. School, after all, is just another piece of the conundrum we call daily life with its jobs, cars, bills, parents, girlfriends, and girlfriends’ parents. English Comp — not comp for competence, but comp for complimentary: There’s no way you’re going to pass this class except by the grace of this institution, or my mental breakdown. 

A few of you may be taking English Comp for the second time. That’s because the last teacher — nowhere to be found — gave you an Incomplete. 

Life for the Custer student can feel like a losing battle. The artful excuse — this new adjunct professor is only just learning — seems built into the curriculum. If you tell her your hard drive just died, the CD you copied your essay onto is incompatible with all known computers, you nearly got killed on the way to school in a car accident, from which you emerged, to the wonderment of all, intact though limping, she may just believe you. Good acting, after all shows spirit. If you cover your face with your hands or your eyes fill with tears or you rock from side to side, or threaten to walk out of the final exam while explaining your recent hardships and disasters, this usually earns points. 

Life at Custer begins with perfecting the distraught voice. Remember to write down all such near-death experiences for the personal essay. For this assignment (see Essay I on page 2 of the syllabus), a sense of drama, timing, and specificity will enhance the narrative. After that we will move on to description, then process and causation, analysis by taking apart, and finally, synthesis; that is, putting it all back together for the argument paper. All this and more in thirty-four meetings, during which I will exhort you to read, read anything at all, while your eyelids droop in the sunlight streaming through the windows of the classroom that doubles as a chemistry lab, and you nod your head or sprawl, embracing your desk like an octopus, as if suffering the sorrows of all humanity.  

Like your mother, I want to shake you awake, but I’m deathly afraid of the Oxycontin that will come tumbling out of your pockets. 

By now most of you have lost a dear friend to drugs, alcohol, or road accident. Likewise, you realize that your parents’ divorce was inevitable and hardly your fault, and that selling steak knives door-to-door in the inner city reeks of failure in the first degree. Many have dropped out of high school or spent time in rehab. About a tenth of you will withdraw before the end of the first month, and throughout the semester don’t be surprised if one by one your classmates disappear like oxygen on Mars, like dissidents in a third-world country. We will therefore dispense with taking attendance. In fact, all obligations to fulfill requirements for this course will be met during class time only. 

Community college deploys certain deceptions or smoke screens a few of you have blown through already. For instance, it is, as some have written in their comparison essays, “no different from high school, only you don’t have to come to class.”   


A few words of advice: Success at Custer means keeping your head down. Far better to tread water than make a splash.  

Over-achievement: To appear outstanding will only raise the professor’s expectations, tantamount to leaving a polished apple on her desk. Take Jed — the guy is doing well in class; he has handed in most assignments, albeit late. His writing radiates poise and courage. He appears to listen even though he rests his head on the table. All signs point to a shameful secret — the potential for success. Noting this, one day the professor suggests Jed might like to move into Honors English next semester. He looks horrified, as if she has proposed marriage, and disappears for the rest of term. Like Buddha he leaves no traces 

Absences: Take care to skip more than one class in a row, particularly if you have a new instructor. To miss every other only makes you conspicuous; an irritant, an undecided; to miss two or even three weeks running leads your instructor to forget you exist.  A new teacher lets the absences pile up; she is at first above such petty record keeping, and then one day, it’s too late.

Listening: To talk to your neighbor over the instructor so she occasionally has to whisper Shhh preserves her sense of purpose. 

Assignments: Play hard to get; turn in your papers with a fine disregard for deadlines.

Finally, understand this: A student never fails at Custer. The teacher fails. The student earns an incomplete.

Welcome to English Comp for compromise. Drop in now and then. 


Kathryn Liebowitz’s fiction, nonfiction, and poetry has appeared variously in Harvard Review, Boston Review, The Boston Globe, Poetry Porch, and Wild Apples, among others; her creative nonfiction “Departure and Arrival” is forthcoming in Shadowbox Magazine. She received a Best Fiction Award for work published in Harvard Review, and a Pushcart Prize nomination for an essay in Wild Apples. She is a graduate of the MFA Program for Writers at Warren Wilson College, and lives in Groton, Massachusetts.