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Commotion has great heart and eloquence, as it shows us moments of the sheer intensity of living, whether in joy and love or in sorrow and in anxiety about our world. 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. She has seen more of the world than most of us, and she captures its “beautiful extra hours of light” as well as its ashes, its mercies and mercilessness, and its demeanor when it "flinches at the scent of human, of evil." Let us believe--to adapt one of her lines--that she has "made it to the world's bedside in time" and that her words will help us all sustain what we can of its recovery. She has the courage of a faithful guide.

—Reginald Gibbons, author of Last Lake, How Poems Think, and many others.

Karen Sagstetter is a writer, editor, and teacher who grew up on the Gulf Coast. She is author of Commotion, a book of poetry, and The Thing with Willie, a collection of linked stories exploring the interplay of two Galveston families, one white and one African American. She has published poetry and fiction in numerous literary journals, two chapbooks of poetry, and two nonfiction books, as well as travel pieces for the Washington Post. She studied in Japan as a Fulbright journalist and with her husband has traveled in more than fifty countries. She was head of publications and editor of Asian Art & Culture, a journal and book series, at the Smithsonian's Freer and Sackler Galleries, and served as senior editor at the National Gallery of Art. She lives in Bethesda, Maryland.



Brighten your day, and sparkle up your dreary mind because Sagstetter writes partly from a star planet. There's sadness and heartbreak enough in this book, yes — loss, a tragic brother who shows up in her dreams, a grandmother who is drifting from touch — but even these cannot shade delight as Sagstetter weaves her dream-states to daily life. In the poem "Morning in Rock Creek Park, our Speaker starts out in "a stupor," "a terrible day," until encountering a debonair gentleman offering peach-colored roses; she sees red pandas, flitting butterflies, "dozens of rabbits munching clover." Her world changes on the page making ours change too. At times, there's a little Alice in Wonderland peeking through a responsible writer, where each poem has its own dynamic of imagery and insight. What I like best is the belief in magic (and no fear of the nighttime mind), which she levels masterfully to tell her stories.

Not a Harvest Moon

This isn't a full strawberry moon
or a full corn moon. Not an egg or milk moon.
Not a full sturgeon moon, a beaver, buck or wolf moon.
Nor is it a hunter's moon, a snow moon, a full cold moon.
I wish it were a harvest moon, but it is not.
If it were a flower moon, we'd be skipping
on the patio but no, it's a new moon,
barely visible the first night out,
just a sliver in a black sky
until it waxes buoyant and dazzling,
tempting us with the idea
that light follows darkness
every time


--Grace Cavalieri, Washington Independent Review of Books. Author of 16 books of poems and 26 produced plays.  She produces "The Poet and the Poem" from the Library of Congress for public radio.



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 Insomnia, A Dog Runs Through It, and many others.

Order Commotion!




If the twigs are wet, if our shoes get soaked
if there are wasps
if there are nettles, if foxes raid the cooler
if a band of naked men in bad boots
seizes our map
if rain turns to sleet, if the stars go home
will you still love me, will you let me stay?

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, A Lesson in Narrative Time, and The Near and Far.

by Karen Sagstetter
Finishing Line Press, full-length, paper
$19.99 plus $2.99 each for shipping

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Cover photo copyright Rona Schwarz, a prizewinning photographer based in West Lafayette, Indiana