A! Magazine for the Arts

Chelsea Thrasher, 18, is an emerging poet and playwright.

Chelsea Thrasher, 18, is an emerging poet and playwright.

Youth Spotlight: Chelsea Thrasher

February 22, 2011

Chelsea Thrasher, an 18-year-old writer from Abingdon, Va., has proved herself as an emerging poet and playwright in the past several years. She won the 2010 Barter Theatre Young Playwrights Festival after placing third in 2009 with her first legitimate play, Three Voices. "I was so excited since I had never really written in that genre before," she says. Other awards include the Virginia High School League's Poetry Honors (second place 2009, third place in 2010) and an honorable mention in Journalism for a personal column in 2009.

Chelsea recently stumbled across her very first poems, written in the fourth grade. Subjects included the new family puppy, love for her mom, how much she loved running (even then), and playing dodgeball. She began writing "full time" in middle school - fantasy stories about dragons and castles and princesses, though at this point "writing was mostly a byproduct of my overactive imagination," she noted. She entered her first writing competition as a high school freshman. In her sophomore year she was recognized first for her poem "Trainwail," which took second place in a statewide competition, and then for a humorous personal column she wrote while on the high school newspaper staff.

Chelsea currently attends Abingdon High School and Virginia Highlands Community College. She plans to major in both dramatic arts, to refine her skills as a playwright, and exercise science. Before we discussed Chelsea's writing, we wondered: what is exercise science? She explained, "It's essentially the study of human movement in terms of muscles, biomechanics (the way someone moves), and the harmony of the different body systems. Aside from writing, my other 'love' is running, which developed this interest. I really enjoy the concrete, research aspect to this particular science. It's a good contrast to creative writing, which I see as being mostly aesthetic."

Chelsea Discusses Inspiration

I don't really know how other poets "work," but whatever inspires me, that's what I write about. The inspiration is the topic. Without inspiration, there's nothing to write about. I feel compelled to write about things that break up the rhythm of my day, things that make me pause and think. It's usually something really small. Not even a slice of life, more like a crumb, a little detail, a flicker of emotion, or a single person. This probably sounds cheesy, but anything can be significant if your mind is open enough.

I should probably read more classic poetry than I do. I was never a fan of any of the English-Honors-textbook poetry that I was forced to read. The only poet I've ever really connected with is Maya Angelou. She uses the most colorful imagery, and every line she writes seems to be brimming with her passion, wisdom, and heritage. The school-assignment stuff shouldn't even be put in the same category as Maya Angelou. It's like comparing shortbread to a triple-fudge espresso brownie.

While I haven't had a chance to read many plays, I just finished reading Oscar Wilde's The Importance of Being Earnest and I LOVED it. Wilde's humor seems to transcend generations.

As far as novelists are concerned, I adore Janet Fitch. I read her debut novel White Oleander cover to cover about seven times, and Paint It Black about four times. Her language is so vivid you can practically drink it. It's poetry in prose format. Also, though I haven't had a chance to read any more of her work, I love Amy Tan's The Joy Luck Club.

...and Her Own Work

As far as my work is concerned, I guess I'll start with the poem "Trainwail." The idea began with background noise. I live about a half-mile from train tracks. In the spring, when our windows are open, I can hear the train's low whistle very early in the morning or late in the evening. On one particular night, the train sounded very sad to me. I just started writing whatever came to mind. Like almost all of my poems, "Trainwail" was a work-in-progress for about a year. I went through about a dozen drafts, each with a subtle change. Some stanzas are precisely as I wrote them on the first night, while others were changed slightly. Mostly I just agonized over punctuation, as usual. This poem really helped me comprehend the value of rhythm and musical quality in poetry.

My poem "It's Midnight..." came from something small as well, an excruciatingly sleepless night at a roadside motel before my grandmother's funeral. I still don't feel like this poem has reached its fullest potential. I've worked on it for more than a year, with positive feedback from people who have read it, but I still feel like it's missing something, like I have more to say.

I'm very proud of The Mrs. Monty Situation, the play that won the 2010 Barter Young Playwrights Festival. Allen, the Gatekeeper of Heaven, and his ne'er-do-well brother J.R., the Gatekeeper of Hell, must make an unorthodox decision about where to send a senile old lady who's convinced she's a top-notch secret agent on a mission to recover some classified documents. Comedy is extremely fun, yet very difficult to write - you have to consider the audience at all times. It was also very nerve-wracking for me to watch it being performed for the first time. I was so afraid no one would laugh! It was definitely a pleasant surprise to win first place in the festival!

I usually stick to these two genres (poetry and playwriting). Prose is very difficult for me to write, as my ideas rarely come out in complete sentences. To be honest, I have not written a complete short story since the seventh grade. I like the artistic wiggle room that comes with writing poetry, not having to conform to grammatical rules and being able to arrange my words into forms and rhythms. Playwriting is more of a challenge. I usually rely on imagery in my writing, not just dialogue and stage direction. But nothing is more rewarding to me than seeing my work come to life on stage. It gives my words a new dimension, and that's really exciting.

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the train is...

in a rage, sobbing.

Chug click clack
Chug click clack
Chug click clack
Chug click clack

over achy vertebrae boards in track
- battered, laddered -
Into the spine and sore back
of the town divided:
lonely halves

the train is...

pleading for an embrace
the muggy night refuses to grace
though the need is dire,
Trainwail! echo on tiresome
this forlorn eve

onesome wants twosome, the longing
as flames dwindle in the heart
and fade to coal-black,
tears streak the mighty face of iron
echo on this forlorn eve

the train is...


* * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * *

It's Midnight...

half-past. You blink
the neon signs away, headaches of yellow and red
glowing against a navy flannel sheet.
everyone watches the hazy
exposed, an alien
alone on a sea of glistening asphalt.
blurred beneath harsh fluorescent glares
you hide face behind high collars, and
black epicenters bleeding India ink, luster
of mercury, everything watching
through pulses of tick and tock,
the predator pacing its cage

* * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * *

Praying Tempest's Tears

mourns his garden of corpses
"neath a brim of unraveling straw
throwing handfuls
of sprouted new-borns
into thorns' strangling clutches,
praying spring's tempest
weeps on his barren dust

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