ENCINITAS — He was a Naval officer during World War II, a law student, a drama teacher, an art critic, a docent, and now, at 90, Tom Whayne can add published poet to his life’s achievements.
But sitting in his Leucadia home, surrounded by other books of poetry from Robert Frost to W. H. Auden to W.B. Yeats, Whayne said having his book of poems called, “Of Strength and Grace: Elegy for Love” (Shanti Arts Publishing) published didn’t mean a “helluva lot.”
That’s because it’s poetry, he said.
“It isn’t really saleable in quantity. I give it to my friends and I get emails from ex-students who’ve discovered the book. But it hasn’t changed my life an iota,” said Whayne with a marked bit of defiance still about him.
Though when asked if it was satisfying to have the book finally come out, he said without hesitation: “exceedingly.”
The book is a poetic account of time between Whayne and his longtime partner Katherine “Kat” Wilson, who had suffered a subdural hematoma after falling, which resulted in her death.
“The funny thing is, she’s been dead since March 2013. I still think of her every day,” he said.
He has pictures of them together, which he can recall just about anything from when they were taken — one photo shows them on a cruise they went on, another of the couple attending a cocktail party.
“She hated having her picture taken,” Whayne said.
The book, he said, contains an important chunk of his life.
“I wouldn’t even call it a tragedy. It was a monumental event that happens to everybody and it becomes a part of your life. I think about her everyday, but I don’t grieve for her everyday. I think about the good things and nice things and dumb things and all the things we used to do. I remember those pictures and what we’re doing.”
What he’d like readers to take away from the book is that it’s a love story — that there can be a love between two people between the ages of 85 and 90 that is absolutely as strong as the love of a 20-year-old, but in a different dimension.
“Love at 85 is a different matter, but it’s still, the beauty is of a different nature, but that’s what I want people to take away,” Whayne said. “That this is a love story between two people who are ‘super seniors’ or whatever they call them.”
A new, unpublished work called “Love Poem” is another reflection on his time with Wilson and the love he has for her: “I love you from the marrow out/ Bone to blood/ To the vessels coursing/ Beneath the mantel of your skin.”
Whayne is at work on a new series of poems, setting the subject of age in his sights this time, something he’s calling serious but mocking.
“I don’t know why I’m so lucky to still be so alert at 90,” he said.
He can list off a number of ailments he does have because of his age: hearing aids, a pacemaker, high blood pressure — but his brain is working, he said.
Whayne will read selections from his book April 15 at 7 p.m. at Ducky Waddles in Cardiff.