Traversing landscapes both physical and personal, in Commotion poet Karen Sagstetter grabs the reader’s hand with the surety of a friend and leads us through the universal, exotic, and deeply human. South Texas, Arlington, and Antietam meet The Andes, a Nepalese village, and a Mexican feast. Grief, awe, and heartache rub up against the feeling of “Alien Sacred” while boating along the Ganges, full of human remains from the cremations along its banks, the strangeness of “floating in the clear, warm sea of my dreams” in the Bay of Pigs where “Sharpshooters still guard the banks,” and the animal pain of clearing out her brother’s house in Kansas, where the “church spires reaching for infinite sky” fill her with ire in her grief. Commotion handles these subjects deftly and clear-eyed, allowing the clamor of living a moment of bright clarity.

“Karen Sagstetter writes about fragility–of relationships, of the planet, of our ways of life–and our world needs every witness it can get, to celebrate its beauty and to decry its woes as she does.”

–Reginald Gibbons, author of How Poems Think


Karen Sagstetter grew up in Texas and has published poetry and fiction in numerous literary journals, including Poet Lore, Shenandoah, Innisfree Poetry Journal, and Little Patuxent Review, two chapbooks, and two nonfiction books. She is also the author of The Thing with Willie, a collection of linked stories set largely in her hometown of Galveston, Texas. Sagstetter studied in Japan as a Fulbright journalist and has traveled in more than fifty countries. She was head of publications at the Smithsonian’s Freer and Sackler Galleries and editor of the series Asian Art and Culture; she also worked as a senior editor at the National Gallery of Art. She lives in Maryland.


“These seemingly simple, colloquial poems move in unexpected directions and pack quite a punch! A commotion is what a reader’s emotions will go through after spending time with this fine work.”

–Linda Pastan, author of A Dog Runs Through It: Poems

“In tones that range from antic to elegiac, Karen Sagstetter has conjured the commotion of ongoing life. Keen-eyed and tender, these poems reanimate lost scenes, lost loves, and celebrate the wonder of ordinary hours. While Commotion rides the current of passing time, Sagstetter acknowledges the stillness that will follow: ‘Who knows whether worry / or joy stopped the wild river / but all the ripples have vanished’— except, perhaps, in words on a page.”

–Jody Bolz, author of Shadow Play