STEWART Conn became Edinburgh’s inaugural Makar in 2002. It has been 11 years since he left the post but, as is evident from this new collection, his ability to transcribe the city and unearth its character has not faded with time. Arranged as a tripartite of poems, the first section of Against the Light is composed of verse dedicated to Auld Reekie.

Conn shores up past and present and meditates on the particular coldness of Edinburgh’s heart. In Ice-Cool the narrator finds an “oil painting from one of those long-gone student/ displays on the seedy Scotsman steps, of a red/ St Cuthbert’s milk-cart in the Grassmarket.” The poem makes use of an organic associative effect: the remembered sounds of milk deliveries – “the clink of discarded empties” – are a reminder of the Modern Jazz Quartet, which in turn leads to an image of “an acrobat cavorting on a crystalline set/ of finely tuned milk-bottles”.

Modern Edinburgh is awash with holidaymakers. The Camera Obscura Speaks yearns for an end to this “rammy of visitors” and mourns the peace of the past. The narrator prays for a “covering of snow capable of blotting out/everything from those sluggard trams to the hills on the periphery, reducing all to a paper hoop, a zero of whiteness, a blank ice-floe”. Conn’s writing displays a wonderful sense of bathos that incorporates the grandeur of the scenery and frivolousness of tourism. In David Hume, tourists jostle to take selfies with the bronze statue, then recede and “remain on the qui vive, like those/who skulked for nights after his Calton burial/ to see if the Devil would come to claim his soul”. In Henry Dundas, the narrator thinks the notorious politician might look unkindly on the current state of St Andrew Square. Then the clouds break over the Firth of Forth and an American visitor exclaims: “Honey, I didn’t realise France was so close”.

The second part of the collection turns from jocular to sombre. The predominant theme is of a lover recovering from illness. In Against the Light – the superlative poem of the collection – the narrator watches his love throw away her painkillers: her “frailty a thing of the past…though hard to imagine ever forgetting/ that night I felt, had you been held against the light/ of a candle, you would have seemed translucent,/ so delicately veined, but for your sustaining spirit." The third section lacks the thematic coherence and quality of the previous two. But poems like Charmed Lives, about the comic fall from grace of two collared doves, contain some wicked humour.

Birds, most notably sparrows, are scattered throughout Tom Pow’s latest collection, also published by Edinburgh’s Mariscat Press. At the Well of Love has a wider geographical reach than Against the Light, taking in landscapes from France to Lagos. But Pow’s poetry lacks the precision and clarity of vision of Conn’s. Nevertheless, there is some enjoyable and beautiful work here. Of the avian poems, The Sparrows, taken “from the apocryphal Gospel of St Thomas”, is about the saint as a boy, “practising miracles” when he shouldn’t. He moulds twelve sparrows from clay, and after being chastised by his father, claps his hands and lets them fly. The spiritual also takes flight in Pow’s poem The Goldcrest, where this tiny flitting bird of the forest takes on the image of an “industrious monk”.

As any bird-watcher knows, where there are birds, there are cats. The felines in Pow’s poetry are mercurial creatures. They may not live the proverbial nine lives, but they do contain other selves. In My Mother as a Cat the narrator tells of a childhood pet acquired after the funeral of his mother. When the cat grows old his mother appears again in its eyes: “her steady gaze edged/with severity as, dear God, it could be, when she urged me not to disappoint”. Other figures, nameless and bodiless, haunt Pow’s poems and there is an undercurrent of loss throughout the collection. A Village Triptych is set in a small French town “held between the shadows/ of church and memorial”, and which, in the morning light, is “a faded photograph of itself”. The protagonist wanders the streets and one of the elusive characters steps into his mind. By evening he is at the Bar at the Well of Love. It is an apt place to finish, for where else could one of Edinburgh’s poets end the day, if not in the pub?

Against the Light by Stewart Conn; Mariscat Press, £6

At the Well of Love by Tom Pow; Mariscat Press, £6