CELEBRATION of disorder makes memorable the best poems in Douglas Dunn’s The Noise of a Fly, his first book-length poetry collection in 17 years. It is there in the first four-line poem, Idleness: “The sigh of an exhausted garden ghost./A poem trapped in an empty fountain pen.”

The “garden ghost” will reappear throughout the book, but if the metaphorical pen is empty, the creative mind is full and active.

Douglas Dunn was born in Inchinnan, Renfrewshire, on October 23, 1942. He has always tilled the garden to allow his poetry to grow. In his first collection Terry Street (1969), an equally short Love Poem opens: “I live in you, you live in me./We are two gardens haunted by each other.”

Now, almost 50 years later, in Botanics, the domestic mates with the exotic: “Multicoloured clothes pegs on the line/Are big tropical birds hanging upside down./Their songs are all imaginary.” In the “Survivors’ syntax” they belong to “the big library of tree poetry/ In botany’s symphonic chorus.”

Throughout this splendidly choreographed collection there are many other references, literal and oblique, to “the slippery slabs of a garden path”. A teacher addresses a would be poet: “Forbid morbidity ... cherish solitude for the sake of your songs ...Live for that singular epiphany/That happens anywhere, that is lying to hand ....take the air. Concluding “If you have a mind to, send me your first book.”

He is a kind commentator, and an equally compassionate observer. A tramp carries “An Alternative Map of Scotland” in his “balding head”. Shaped memories inhabit it “articulating poverty and movement”. He is one who lives his meandering life seeing the best in the worst of times, and leaves for the next dweller of his makeshift hideaway a note advising: “There’s a good old soul in the first smallholding/Over the road, by the bridge. For sweeping,/And fixing a hinge on her outhouse door,/She gave me two-boiled eggs, four buttered scones/All the tomatoes I could pick and eat.”

Dunn allows nuance to enhance the more intuitive poems, gazing aslant at the immediate, pronouncing on the apparently obscure, sometimes literally. Journeying from Belfast to Edinburgh he sees from the descending plane “Wind turbines (that) cast their giant, spinning arms ... Semaphore shadows ... plural phenomena that never sleep.”

He notes that “The Forth Bridge is a queue of dinosaurs”. On landing “A field of poppies greets a shower of rain.” Michael and Edna Longley are the dedicatees of this lovely short piece, Michael being the most respected poetic keeper of the poppy field in history. For me, however, the great and grand quality of Dunn’s is his willingness to develop a theme throughout a poem. It is there in the four-part The House of The Blind: “On a winter’s morning,/I saw someone being taught to climb steps”. In spring “ a raincoated man in dark spectacles/would have felt similar cold and wet”. In summer “a woman/instructed in the use of her first guide dog./Even now the tug on her arm pulls at my heart.”

He watches. Wonders if “I could be the last poet in the language/ To say ‘heart’ in the traditional way. /I hope not. I am writing about eyes.” In Part Two the poet, who has earlier admitted to “a catastrophe of spectacles”, is in Prague: “Listening. /A cellist surrendered to Bach with a passion./I could (only) imagine the genderless sway.”

The National:

In Part Three, Louis Braille is introduced as one “who accidentally put his eye out/with an awl in his father’s workshop,/and the other eye sympathised with its dead partner.” Braille “refined, perfected and made a useful thing” of the “raised dots”. Those “invented by French artillerymen to plan/the fall of shot in the dark without giveaway lamps”.

The “sympathetic ophthalmia” that affected Braille is explained: “It doesn’t happen often ... but you lose a dimension.” In time he returns to the personal as when his “love” was discovered “hanging out the washing on a line that felt uncertain”.

Empathy demand that he, the poet, and his reader become “Sympathy’s mutual”. The poem concludes: “I hung the washing on a line that wavered./That was as nothing to my love’s nightmare/Hanging washing on a line that wasn’t there.”

Towards the end of the book a valedictory note is sounded. Ostensibly Self-Portraits refers to those of Rembrandt but the universal emerges: “A simple narrative, it innovates/as only truth can.” Despite ageing he is “Secure as if he has outlived desire’s distress/or need of hope.” But not quite: “Something about ageing makes me witness youth surviving in me like a troublesome/dilemma”. Wisdom is a persuasive presence.

Readers of The National may particularly enjoy the long penultimate poem English (A Scottish Essay), a poem deserving its own reprint in pamphlet form. It opens: “I didn’t choose you, nor did you choose me/I was born into a version called Accent.” He continues: “Is it instinctive only/To think and feel the language I write in ... English I’m not ... as language, though, you’re mine.”

Later, he questions “What is the language of laughter?” He answers in his own disordered cultural way: “Let my lilies flourish in/This land and tongue of rain and cloud shadow./Lilies and roses, too, are of this nation.”

The book closes, where I began, in quiet celebration. A place where Dunn can hear “an oatcake crumble” and withdraw within: “A domestic symphony,/A solitude sufficiently robust/ To encourage mumbles of wonder.” His mumbles are marvellous.

The Noise of a Fly by Douglas Dunn is published by Faber, priced £14.99