Before I Was a Successful Artist, I Was a Punk Poet

Group of Young Punk-lifestyle Teenage Girls in a Car

Before I was an artist, I was a poet. I was twelve years old in the seventh grade and I met my first punk. Her name was Andrea and she had two older sisters. She smoked clove cigarettes. Half of her head was shaved with steps. The other half had blue tips. Her fingernails were black and her makeup was pasty white foundation with thick black eyeliner. She wore a ripped up The Cure shirt, a black mini skirt with fishnets, and Doc Martens combat boots.

We became immediate best friends. Within weeks I shaved part of my head and bleached what was left maxi blond. I spent hours ripping every piece of clothing I had that was black and went shopping at Goodwill for the rest of my wardrobe; my favorite find was a black lace prom dress— I cut the bottom ruffle off of until it was a mini and ripped the sleeve so it hung off of one shoulder. We were angsty and looking for trouble.


Group of teenagers hanging out in a graveyard

Our favorite hangout (besides coffee shops and back alleys) was graveyards with other punks and I wrote poetry in a journal kept in my ratty backpack. I picked up this artsy vibe from the others and poetry was all I could do. The rest would draw their dark, brooding drama on each others’ leather jackets or ripped jeans. Some kind of creative outlet to release all the depressing melodrama was a must in my crowd and I filled journal after journal with prose and poetry.

I was reckless and bulletproof. Andrea and I flirted with GIs in Waikiki to get them to buy us hard alcohol—then pretended we were finding a bathroom and split. We made out with older punks in the alleys between the nightclubs and sometimes snuck in to run around the mosh pits. I met my husband in one of these back alleys when he was “Johnny Milan” and we shared a bottle of peach schnapps one night.

My parents had no idea what I was up to and they thought I was at the movies or spending the night at Andrea’s. They didn't know Andrea’s mom was a pushover and we had connections that would pick us up and take us to Waikiki. My parents didn't know what a mess I was or how I felt about myself. They didn't know I had a death wish or that I idolized the Sex Pistols and the Sid and Nancy story. They were oblivious to how many close calls I had riding in cars with guys on hallucinogens who drove against traffic on the freeway.


All of my secrets were encoded in my poetry that no one read but God. In my heart I wanted to be great. I wanted to live—but really live. Every emotion I felt, I felt it magnified by a thousand. I didn't know what to do with all of my feelings. I had no one but my messed up friends to talk to. I got it all out in my journals. I wrote poem after poem but most of it was dark and exaggerated and effortless. It poured out of me like a broken pipe. It was real; it was my release where I could vomit out all that was inside of me.

One day, I had one of my journals clutched in my hands at my chest. My mom was talking to me about something in the dining room on the way to the kitchen. I just stared at her through my thick black mascara waiting for her to finish so I could leave and go to my room. She snatched my journal from me before I could react and she started to read. I stood there, frozen and silent, while a million thoughts raced through my mind: She’s going to find out how disturbed I am and send me to a psychologist! She’ll probably run away crying. Or she might laugh and make fun of me. Maybe she’ll even ground me until I’m eighteen! I was terrified—but I also think I wanted her to read it. I wanted her to know I could put my feelings into words and metaphors. I really thought I could grow up and be a poet like Sylvia Plath.

What did she write?

I flipped through the pages until I found it: My daughter, Elli, will be world-famous one day.

poetry journal entry with message from mom

My Mom's Message is the Reason I'm Living My Destiny Today

I read it at least three times. My throat ached as I held back my tears. I was too much of a punk to let a single tear fall. Secretly, it meant more to me than my mother would ever know. She believed in me. She thought I had significance and my life was worth something. She validated that deeply-rooted knowledge that greatness was inside of me wanting to live a life of destiny and purpose. Her words gave me something to live for.

What was your creative outlet as a teenager? 

Share in the comments below!



  • Melody Nydam

    What a writer you are, Elli! You are God-kissed, and you knew it.
    I didn’t really have a creative outlet, work was kind of a god on our farm, I was the youngest of 6 and our parents were godly, dedicated, and pioneered home schooling by going to court and finally winning when I was out of 3rd. grade. 1970-71. But God taught me to read at age 4, and I had a horse at 10. My escape!
    Thank you for asking.

  • Anabela Sobrinho

    Hi Elli,

    I do admire your openness!
    Your Mother was your saviour, really. GOD BLESS HER, YOU and YOUR FAMILY!
    I was always deviated from my aim, never did I get any support to study art. I did it as an adult, already married and a Mother of 1 girl and 2 boys.

    Anabela Sobrinho
    Melbourne, Australia

  • Jullie-Ann

    Oh wow! You had me in tears.. thanks for the inspiration and for not being scared to be brutally honest.. You are a beautiful soul!

  • Cynthia Liles

    Wow!!! This reminds me of my teenage years. Always trying and wanting to be different, I guess because I was different. Spent many nights drawing or writing in my journal through the wee hours of the night. It’s such a good feeling when someone gets you without judging.

  • Colleen brown

    Elli, this is such a great story. So glad your mother gave you what you needed. Mine did as well and it has enabled me to live the life I’ve always wanted. We are blessed. C

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