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Caulfield Recognized For A Lifetime Of Artistic Achievement

Poet Dessie Caulfield (right) enjoyed a laugh with Ramona Bernard of the Water Valley Arts Council during a special reading of her work at Bozarts Gallery last Friday night. Caulfield was also presented the Ed Shearer The Third Memorial Award for Artistic Achievement during the event. – Photo by Jack Gurner

Dessie Caulfield with Ramona Bernard and Bill Warren of the Arts Council.

View two videos from this event on YouTube

By Jack Gurner

WATER VALLEY – Poet Dessie Caulfield received the Ed Shearer The Third Memorial Award for Artistic Achievement Friday night during a special reading of her work at Bozarts Gallery.

Ramona Bernard, Pati D’Amico, and Bill Warren of the Water Valley Arts Council presented the award, which recognizes her as a member of the Water Valley community who has made a significant and lasting contribution to the arts.

During the presentation, D’Amico said, “The award was named for Ed Shearer who, as well as being editor of the Herald for many years, was an excellent music teacher and one who appreciated the important role that music and art play in a community.”

“Tonight we are taking this opportunity to present the Second Ed Shearer the Third Award, and appropriately, this time it goes to a poet.”

Warren, who presented Caulfield with a pen in a handmade presentation box, said, “Dessie, your name will also be inscribed on the permanent award trophy, along with that of Stanley Crow, to be located at the Water Valley Main Street Office. We all want to say thank you for making the world, and especially Water Valley, a more poetic place.”

He then read from the inscription on the box, “To a poet of clarity and perception, from an admiring community.”

That line refers to a comment made by Winifred Hamrick Farrar, Poet Laureate of Mississippi from 1978 until her death last year. Farrar once described Caulfield as “a gentle spirit, who mingles well her world of reality and imagination, and presents it with clarity and perception.”

Bernard read the biography of Caroline DeSaussure Anderson Caulfield.  “We all know her better as Dessie.”

“Dessie was born June 5th, 1916 in Centreville, Mississippi. As her father, Oliver May Anderson, was a Presbyterian pastor, the family moved several times. After seven years in Virginia, the family moved to Water Valley.  In the sixth grade, Dessie met James Barron Caulfield, the man who would become her husband.  They met in church.

“Dessie graduated from Water Valley High School in 1934, in the middle of the Great Depression, and then enrolled in Belhaven College, in Jackson.  As a freshman, Dessie joined the Belhaven Poetry Society and became a charter member of the Mississippi Poetry Society when the group went statewide and changed its name.  

“After graduating from college in 1938, Dessie stayed in Jackson and worked in the office of the Field Co-Operative Associates. During this time, her childhood friend, Barron Caulfield began courting her. On weekends, he would take her home to Water Valley, where they would visit people and attend Ole Miss football games. Then Barron was reclassified by the Draft Board, and he left for England.    

“During the war, Dessie moved to Washington, DC, where she worked primarily in the Treasury Department.

“In late July of 1945, Barron came to see Dessie in the nation’s capital while on leave from the army. He proposed, she accepted, and they hopped on a train to come home. In Memphis, he bought her the diamond ring she still wears.

“Two weeks later, her father married them in his parish at Rolling Fork, Mississippi.  Barron and Dessie made their life together, and raised their children in beautiful Water Valley.”

“The important thing about Dessie, for us, is that she is a poet,” Bernard said. “Many here tonight are poets, or we are ‘poetical’ to one degree or another, but Dessie has been seriously at the business for more than 70 years.”

“Since her days at Belhaven College, Dessie has published countless poems in anthologies, magazines, yearbooks, journals, and newspapers. Her first book, Goblet of Dreams, was published in 1999. Her second book, Mother of My Love, will be published this summer.

“Dessie began to receive honors for her poems while still in college. She twice won the Chi Delta Award for best poem in a student publication. She has won numerous prizes and honors in competitions, including those of the Mississippi Poetry Society (of which she is a past president) and the Mid-South Poetry Festival. She is affiliated with poetry groups all over the country, from the Poet’s Study Group of Terra Haute, Indiana, to the Poetry Society of New Hampshire, to the Southern Poetry Association. She is also a member of the Delta Branch of the National League of American Penwomen.”

The first recipient of the Ed Shearer Award was Stanley Crow, who as the Water Valley High School Band Director for almost three decades, and then as the leader of the Water Valley Community band, has been an outstanding leader, mentor, and role model for hundreds of young Water Vallians.

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