English major Joss Bracero ’24 wins undergraduate poetry prize

May 14, 2024
By: Rebecca Cross

English major Joss Bracero ’24 has won the Worcester County Poetry Association’s Elizabeth Bishop Manuscript Prize for his poem “Being Multiple.” The prize is part of the association’s annual College Poetry Contest, established in 2008 to encourage and recognize the next generation of poets. Winners receive a cash award and one year’s membership to the association in addition to publication. Bracero’s poem will appear in the next issue of The Worcester Review.

Bracero wrote the winning poem in a class taught by English Professor Heather Treseler that required students to write a poetry chapbook (a collection of fewer than 40 pages of poems). “This one line came to me, ‘waking up in the backyard of a shared mind,’ and I couldn’t let it go,” he said. That became the opening line of “Being Multiple,” a poem that explores resistance to and acceptance of one’s identity. While he didn’t end up including the poem in the final chapbook, he did share it with Professor Treseler, who asked him if she could nominate it for the College Poetry Contest.

In the two and a half years that I have worked with Joss in literature and creative writing courses, I have watched his work deepen and develop in both poetry and nonfiction in exciting ways,” Treseler said. “Joss committed himself, early on, to reading extensively, taking creative risks, and engaging with local literary communities (on and off campus), learning as much as he could about both genres and the craft of writing more generally. It has truly been a privilege to work with him.”

Bracero has been writing poetry since the second grade, when he made up his own Shel Silverstein-style poems, and then started writing more earnestly in middle school. In addition to Silverstein, he counts among his influences Allen Ginsberg and the Beat poets, Eileen Cleary, and Chen Chen.

Bracero writes a lot about loss and identity. “I’m transgender,” he said. “I’m from the South. I try to channel some of the ways that impacts your identity and how you navigate the world.” He also writes a lot about his mother, Sonya Conner, a Worcester State sociology professor who passed away in 2018. “I make a lot of inferences about her past and kind of séance with her in that way,” he said.

When he heard he had won, he says, “I was ecstatic and a bit shocked. The poems that I submitted meant a lot to me, and I was honestly floored.”

He says of the poem, “It’s very different from anything I’ve written. I’ve used the page in a very different way than I’ve really ever done, and it’s far less narrative-based than a lot of my work. So, it was very outside of the box, mostly being images and trying to manipulate language, rather than tell a specific story. It definitely represents where I hope to move my work in the future.”

Bracero plans to get a master’s in library science, but he definitely plans to keep writing. Currently, he’s working on a memoir that weaves prose and poetry and is editing the poems in his chapbook with the goal of submitting the manuscript in the near future.

“I definitely love writing,” he says. “I could never give it up.”

Top image: Joss Bracero. Photo by Colin Joyal.

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