WEEK FORTY FOUR-AND-A-HALF -John Knox/James Boswell

>> John Knox

 James Boswell<<

john-knox                james-boswell

A brace of Scotsmen form our unlikely pair this week, both often seen as in the shadow of another historical figure, at least in the popular imagination. One, however was adamant in his identification with his country, and fierce in his desire to alter its culture; while the other was more concerned with escaping what he saw – or believed others saw – as his country’s inferiority. Often presented in opposition to the romantic figure of Mary Queen of Scots, John Knox is the individual recognised as the central figure in the Scottish Reformation and the founder of the Calvinist Church of Scotland. While many of Knox’s ideas were laudable – democratic government for the church, a school in every parish for example – he can also be blamed for the extensive cultural vandalism by the mob in reaction to his his rabble rousing anti-Catholic preaching. Like Knox, James Boswell spent a great deal of time in England where he became a close associate of Samuel Johnson, going on to write their travels accounts and ultimately Johnson’s biography, hailed as the finest of its sort in English. A fine writer in many genres, Bozzy first become known for his account of the struggle for independence in Corsica. However, when asked by Dr Johnson where he came from, he replied, ‘I do indeed come from Scotland, but I cannot help it.’ It is perhaps this attitude – all too common in post-Union Scotland – that allowed Boswell to escape from his strict Calvinist upbringing and indulge in numerous pleasures of the flesh during his sojourn in the south. Racy and salacious though his diaries are, they show that he never completely escaped from the guilt his upbringing induced – a guilt which, it is arguable, the sanctimonious morality of Knox’s Calvinism induced.


Rob A Mackenzie
To Be John Knox

was hard in the sixteenth century.
Now all you need is a hipster beard
or centrifugal rhetoric to appear
a force in the world. Or a victim.
Nineteen months in a prison galley
did not arouse the sweet tongue
ladies-in-waiting counted on:
“You are beautiful. Your beauty
won’t travel beyond the grave” –
Knox’s finest shot at flattery.
There has been flattery: a band,
The John Knox Sex Club, could be
flagged as a tribute act. Scotland
usually sidelines revolutionaries,
continues to give an affirming No
vote to Knox, never a Yes man,
who loved England and prayed
for union. Love was unreciprocal,
unconsummated. But there was
consummation. Cardinal Beaton
had ten children, doubtless virgin
births, before his assassination;
One of Knox’s daughters married
a murderer. Knox found it near
impossible to disapprove of death.
There was disapproval: kneeling
for communion; the parroting of
prayer books; Popes pious as
cheeseburgers; dancing; queens –
blame Knox, unlikely therapist
on whom to offload Scottish
niche perennials: difficult-to-like
wha’s like us brigades, blottoed
sectarians, the misty women
conjuring summer rainclouds
from fish shops in Fife, bullied
adolescents with London accents,
the twenty percent Tory voters –
blame Knox: witty, intransigent
iconoclast. Let’s nail accusations
before the High Court carpark.
There he lies beneath berth 23,
powerless under a Mini Clubman.


Wee Bozzy Boswell
by James Robertson


Wee Bozzy Boswell
rins tae Lunnon Toun,
sooks up tae Sammy –
writes it aw doun;
back in Auld Reekie,
jinks up a close,
gaes wi a hizzie,
gets himsel a dose.

Boozy Bozzy Boswell,
fou  as a wulk,
heid like a fitbaw,
gaes hame tae sulk;
awns up tae Margaret
in her nichtgoun,
sets her aff greetin –
writes it aw doun.

Busy Bozzy Boswell,
bleezin wi life,
feart o his faither,
bad tae his wife;
stares at the starnies,
trips ower his shoon,
kisses his bairnies –
writes it aw doun.

Puir Bozzy Boswell,
seik-sair wi sin:
if he wins tae Heaven,
wull they let him in?
Keeks in the mirror –
sic a wickit loun!
Vows tae be a guid man –
writes it aw doun.

Weary Bozzy Boswell,
he pechs and he sighs:
canna help bein Scottish,
hooiver hard he tries.
Ach! Whit a penance!
Och! Whit a boon!
Wee Bozzy Boswell
writes it aw doun.


rob-a-mackenzie-picRob A Mackenzie
was born in Glasgow and lives in Leith. He has published two pamphlets and two full poetry collections, the most recent being The Good News (Salt, 2013). His reviews and articles have appeared in Poetry Review, The Dark Horse, New Welsh Review etc. He is reviews editor of Magma Poetry magazine.

james-robertson-portraitJames Robertson is a poet, novelist and editor. He established the imprint Kettillonia imprint in 1999, with the aim of publishing ‘original, adventurous, neglected and rare’ writing. He is a co-founder and editor of Itchy Coo, the Scots language imprint for young readers. His own poetry has appeared in many pamphlets, books and other outlets, and his next novel, To Be Continued, was published in August 2016. 




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