SANTA FE, N.M. — Drop the name Dwight Yoakam and country music fans will be coming for miles around.
And it just so happens that Kelsey Brown, executive director of the Witter Bynner Foundation for Poetry, was able to turn a previous contact with the singer into a benefit concert for the foundation Tuesday at the Santa Fe Opera.
“I had done a benefit concert five years ago for Santa Fe Prep for tuition assistance,” Brown said. “I’m in my second year as the executive director at Witter Bynner Foundation for Poetry and we don’t normally fundraise, but I’m a fundraiser.”
Yoakam has sold more than 25 million albums worldwide and is a 21-time nominee and multiple winner at the Grammy Awards. He has 12 gold albums and 9 platinum or multi-platinum albums, with five of those topping Billboard’s Country Albums chart and another 14 landing in the Top 10.
The concert serves the dual purpose of raising money and raising awareness of the foundation, she said.
“I was just looking for a creative way to get the foundation’s mission and name out there, so I reached out to Dwight’s people,” Brown said.
The correlation between poetry and song is a deep and natural one, so it just made sense, she said.
“I’m a huge fan of Dwight,” Brown said. “For me, I feel musicians, especially ones like Dwight, who are really storytellers, are poets in their own right. So there’s a strong connection between poets and musicians.”
Having the event at the opera makes it particularly exciting.
“It’s a fun way to get people to see the opera and hear Dwight, and hear about our programming. That connection with our foundation is exciting, and we’re excited to have him at the opera and excited to get our name out there a little.”
The foundation was created with a bequest from noted poet Witter Bynner in 1972.
Bynner, who died in Santa Fe in 1968 at age 86, was a Brooklyn native and Harvard graduate who moved to New Mexico in 1922 and became part of the art scene that included the likes of D.H. Lawrence and Georgia O’Keeffe.
The foundation perpetuates the art of poetry and its role in American culture, Brown said. It encourages grant proposals that expand awareness of the positive effects of poetry on society.
But the foundation recently started a program to recognize young poets with its Youth Poet Laureate program, which aims to identify young writers and leaders who are committed to civic and community engagement, poetry and performance, human relations, diversity and education.
“This is new for the foundation, so we’re fundraising for that,” Brown said. “We want to continue it because it’s been extremely successful with the students who applied for it last year.”
The 2019 award went to recent Santa Fe Waldorf graduate Hannah Laga Abram, who received a $1,000 scholarship. She also will have five of her poems published in the National Youth Poet Laureate Annual Anthology by Penmanship Books, reading and speaking engagements between May 2020 and April 2021, and an opportunity to apply to the Regional Youth Poet Laureate competition.
Abram and the rest of the applicants “give me such hope for our culture and society,” Brown said. “These kids are so connected to Santa Fe and New Mexico, and doing such good work civically involved in their communities, and they’re also poets.”
The idea is to strengthen and increase the program, she said.
“We hope that we can broaden the amount of kids that apply next year and get word out that we’re supporting these students,” Brown said.
With corporate sponsorships adding to the kitty, the foundation could realize as much as $50,000 from the Yoakum show, she said.
“It’s all important,” Brown said. “All fundraising is important because it makes it possible for us to provide more programming in northern New Mexico.”
Among the local programs the foundation supports are ABQ Unidos Slam Poetry Project in Albuquerque, The Wingspan Poetry Project in Santa Fe, the New Mexico School for the Arts’ Witter Bynner Poetry Series in Santa Fe, Reel Fathers Poetry Outreach – Fathers in Focus in Santa Fe, the Resolana Farms’ creative residency in Coyote, Artworks’ Poetry in Schools program in Santa Fe, the Santa Fe Poet Laureate program, the Teatro Paraguas’ Poetry and Theatre in Performance and the Santa Fe Girls School’s Poetry Workshops.