At 47, Steve Delia has come to learn certain things about his life.
He'll probably never be rich.
He'll probably never be famous.
Because he's a poet.
"Poets are the low people on the totem pole," said Delia, who has been crafting poetry for a little more than three decades. "And very few make it to what people would call the big time. So I've resigned myself to the fact that I can't quit my day job to write poetry. But I'm OK with that. I do it because I have to. I do it because I love it."
It's because of that love, that obsession, that Delia is attending the 60th annual Philadelphia Writers' Conference at Center City's Holiday Inn, which runs today through Sunday.
This year's theme is "Diamonds Are a Quill's Best Friend." And in a contentious literary world of abiding love and frequent rejection, conference board member Larry Atkins offered an added theme: persistence.
"A lot of people write for the love of writing," said Atkins. "The thing is not to take rejection personally. You really have to work to get your work out there, and the conference is an open, friendly place where writers share their experiences."
This year, one of those sharing is keynote speaker and Inquirer writer Mark Bowden, of
Black Hawk Down
fame. The opening speaker is Michael Smerconish, radio host, columnist for The Inquirer and the Philadelphia Daily News, and author.
Conferees can register and pay at the door; the cost is $205.
The event typically draws more than 150 writers.
This year, in addition to workshops on creative nonfiction, literary short stories, memoir writing, and the ever-important breaking writers block, the conference will offer two workshops on poetry, which Delia, who has attended in the past, said is unusual.
"It speaks volumes about how popular poetry is in its own little world," he said. "My hope is one day it will become more commercialized."
Delia, who grew up in the Northeast, where he still lives, and works a "regular office job" at Acme supermarket corporate offices in Malvern, was first exposed to poetry in high school.
Back then, song lyrics were his passion.
"I wanted to be a musician," he said, "but I had no musical talent whatsoever. The closest I got was putting words to instrumentals, and it gradually become poetry."
Since then, Delia's poetry has evolved from "sappy love poems," which he said he now avoids regardless of his romantic situation, to free verse, usually told in first person.
Most of his poetry is autobiographical, but he sometimes delves into social ills like violent crime.
When it comes to literary success, Delia has two self-published books. One,
Revisited, Revised and Retyping,
is mostly older poems that he has "punched up." The other,
1622 Church Street,
is a collection of poems about growing up in his grandfather's house.
And he's working on another. Inspired last summer by a trip to the zoo, the book will compare animal behavior with that of humans.
One poem involves a floating hippopotamus.
"They're so humongous," Delia explained, "and they carry all that weight. It made me think how we have to carry weight in our lives and all the problems we have to deal with."
Then he added with a laugh, "I also thought how a hippo doesn't care about being fat."
A member of the Mad Poets Society, a Philadelphia-area group, Delia described the city's poetry scene as strong and noted how he has been published in some "small magazines," which often pay nothing more than a free subscription.
At this weekend's conference, he plans to share one of his new animal poems, hoping for some small acclaim and constructive critique.
"It's great when you find outlets," Delia said, a suggestion of a writer's true motivation. "When people are eager to hear your poem, it's a great feeling. It's better than being published."