Doug Shields to Read as OPWC’s September Featured Writer

By Robert Laurence

Writer Doug Shields

Writer Doug Shields. Photo by Rick Dipley II.

Doug Shields is an astronomer. His Ph.D. dissertation demonstrates a computer program that allows other astronomers to analyze the concentration of matter and energy in the arms of spiral galaxies billions of light years distant. He also performs slam poetry. And writes short stories. Presumably he dances; his entire personality seems to be in dance-like motion at all times. His enthusiasm for life is infectious. Science, too. Poetry, too.

Doug Shields will be spreading that infection — or infectiousness, anyway — as the featured writer at the next monthly meeting of the Ozarks Poets and Writers Collective, 7 p.m. Tuesday, Sept. 29 at Nightbird Books on Dickson Street in Fayetteville. The event is free and open to the public. Words and refreshments will be available for purchase, as will Shields’ recently published book of stories, about which more later.

Originally from Parsons, Kansas — which is just this side of nowhere — Shields moved with his family to Harrison, Arkansas, a place too small (in a number of senses) to contain a person of his talents and ways. He finished high school at the Arkansas School for Mathematics and Sciences in Hot Springs and from there moved to the University of Houston where he began seriously to combine his science and his poetry. He completed his undergraduate degree in physics, even while he was founding an art commune called “southmorehouse.”

Relocating to Fayetteville, he continued to combine the two, completing a doctorate in physics, serving as slam master of Fayetteville, and writing his own poetry and stories. Here he is the C.E.A. — Chief Executive Artist — for a spoken-word entertainment company called GigaPoem LLC.

Just out is Benjamin Golden Devilhorns, Shields’ collection of short stories, published by Saltimbanque Books of New York City. He calls the stories “weird,” in fact some of the “least weird” of his stories. Dr. Michael Karl Ritchie of Henderson State University in Arkadelphia, Arkansas, calls them “absurd.”

“In the great tradition of Southern absurdists, [Shields’] human comedy reveals, with loving honesty, the state of our culture today,” Ritchie says.

I call them “quirky” and a delightful read. They are linked stories, set in and around Benjamin High School, whose athletes — the Devilhorns — are dressed in gold. Each story stands by itself, but the same characters show up again and again: Dennis, “the best pizza boy in town.” Denna, who “floats her prayers in a cloud of incense.” Jay Gilbert Masterson III, who fights the conflict of the two sides of his character, his manliness and his pussyness. Certainly, the “meat tycoon” Clemens Bison.

There’s more. Skizzy and Barley and Abbi and Carney. Oh, and Pinswinger the Bowling Ball. Memorable characters all, some of whom will be introduced to you when Doug Shields takes to the lectern for the OPWC September meeting. You should not be surprised, either, if there’s a little bit of physics spoken as well. (Shields comes as close as anyone to being able to turn physics into poetry. And vice versa.)

Join us. Your brain may never be the same. As usual, the mic will be open before and after for members of the community to share four minutes of their literary work.