Everything and Nothing: A place of sanctuary

Aïda Rogers

Posted October 26, 2022

By Aïda Rogers

There are many words to describe the times we’re living in, and most connote noise. What a relief, then, to find a place where the noise is turned down, where vitriol won’t work, where collaboration, not competition, is the goal. I’m talking about Tuesday Duets, a live, online series that features two artists – usually poets – in conversation with each other. Created in 2020 by William Epes of Mt. Pleasant, Tuesday Duets was called “Art Church” by one participant refreshed by its sacred sense of calm.

I prefer another word Epes uses: “sanctuary.”

“I believe everyone needs a place of sanctuary,” he told me. “Artists waking up to their art need a safe place. Artists who have done it all also need a place. They are different needs and needs all the same.”

The Tuesday Duet for July 12, 2022, featured three poets instead of the usual two. Clockwise from upper right: Sarah Cooper, Maureen Seaton, host Bill Epes, Denise Duhamel.

Practicing a Unitarian Universalist lay ministry “by education, not ordination,” Epes likens Tuesday Duets to a jazz concert in which two musicians improvise, playing off each other. Epes invites one poet, who invites another poet or artist with whom they’re working.

What emerges is an engaging, sometimes playful, sometimes emotional, always respectful back-and-forth between creatives. Those watching – it’s on Facebook – can ask questions and participate in an open mic after the program. So far, 32 poets from across the United States have participated. Their partners have included photographers, musicians, nonfiction writers, and batik and tattoo artists. Spouses, friends, and parent-child teams have appeared.   

“I’ve done readings with other poets before but never in a way that paired our work,” said Sarah Cooper, a poet and professor at Clemson University who has appeared twice on Tuesday Duets.  “This event puts poets in poetic and conversational space, which is a rare find.”

For Epes, a Buffalo, New York, native who has worked in publishing and environmental education, Tuesday Duets offers a way to rethink art as a strictly solo endeavor. Besides keeping poets connected during the pandemic, it encourages his faith tradition of “making meaning together.” As he puts it, “If we understand that we are stronger together, perhaps our art can be stronger and more meaningful when we make it together.”

Tune in to recorded programs (look for the Facebook group strand line break) and you’ll find Aiken spouses Julia Wendell and Barrett Warner reading and discussing their poems about the equine life, anorexia, a life-changing car accident, and the ironies in a southern town. From across their divides of age and race, Marlanda Dekine and Libby Bernardin come together on racism in their shared Georgetown County. Poet Marjory Wentworth and her longtime collaborator, visual artist Mary Edna Fraser, discuss their shared books, exhibits, and how Wentworth’s social justice work blends with Fraser’s environmental justice work. Both of Charleston, Fraser says she and Wentworth pray – for each other and their work.

And, as Epes says when he introduces each program, “poetry that approaches prayer” and “art that can heal” interest him most. With as many as 216 views per event – most people tune in after the live programs – Tuesday Duets proves he’s onto something.

“We make the road by walking,” he tells his viewers, paraphrasing Spanish poet Antonio Machado. Which is exactly what Epes has done – building his show as he goes, inviting others to join him, declining sponsorships so it can remain a ministry. He wants to make sure he can provide what he thinks is so important.

“Poetry is a really vital way to make meaning of the world,” he says. “My goals are to connect people and honor them. Offering a platform that simultaneously lifts a pair of artists while connecting them to others across great distances remains an exciting way to serve people – especially those I love, admire and may never fully understand, but want to understand.”

Dialogue, not monologue. In 2022, how beautifully radical is that?

For information about Tuesday Duets, email strandlinebreak@gmail.com or friend WM Epes on Facebook.

Aïda Rogers writes from an old house in Columbia and a new porch in McClellanville. Her three-volume anthology series, State of the Heart: South Carolina Writers on the Places They Love, includes stories by 108 Palmetto State writers.

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