I’ve seen her pass with eyes upon the road —
An old bent woman in a bronze
With skin as dried and wrinkled as a
As brown as a cigar-box, and her
Like the low vibrant strings of a guitar.
And I have fancied from the girls about
What she was at
their age, what they will be
When they are old as she.
But now she sits
And smokes away each night till dawn
Thinking, beside the piñons’
flame, of days
Long past and gone, when she was young
To be no longer young, her epic done
— Excerpt from “Una Anciana
Mexican” by Alice Corbin in Red Earth: Poems of New
Alice Corbin moved to Santa Fe in 1916 when she was
35, thinking she would die in a tuberculosis sanatorium. Instead,
she and her husband, artist William Penhallow Henderson, helped
shape Santa Fe into the outpost of artists and poets and literary
rabble-rousers it has been since the early 20th century.
Prior to her pilgrimage to the desert, Corbin was associate editor
of Poetry magazine and an outspoken critic of university
professors, who, she wrote, were isolated from “modern
life.” She scolded them for “divorcing” life from
art, and called their students “bleaching celery, banked and
covered with earth; they are so carefully protected from any
coloring contact with the ideas of the living
In Santa Fe, living among the city’s
Spanish-speaking population and learning the folk songs and myths
of her neighbors and of the nearby pueblo tribes, Corbin washed
herself in the desert and its cultures: She was among the first
Anglo poets to draw on — and give credit to — Southwest
Now, Lois Rudnick and Ellen Zieselman have
reissued Corbin’s book, Red Earth: Poems of New
Mexico, which was first published in 1920, and paired her
poems with images from Santa Fe’s Museum of Fine Arts.
Artists include not only Corbin’s husband, but also Ansel
Adams, Alfred Stieglitz, Georgia O’Keeffe, Alfonso Roybal,
John Collier Jr. and Howard Norton Cook. Although Santa Fe would be
unrecognizable to Corbin today, her poems are as important now as
they were almost a century ago.
Red Earth: Poems
of New Mexico
By Alice Corbin. 112 pages,
Museum of New Mexico Press,
Red Earth: desert poems resurrected
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