Poet, author Ellison’s new collection inspired by fellow Pelican artist, the late Scott King

By Louis Hoglund

Joan Jarvis Ellison, Pelican’s well-known art and literary figure—and a shepherdess. She has also been a civic leader as one of the driving forces behind the construction of the Pelican Rapids Public Library. And—she wrote a children’s book revolving around that very subject: “The Year (I donated my mom to the Library).” She has also written on immigration, ethnic diversity, and the refugee experience—and is a founder of Pelican’s Multi-Cultural Committee.

Japanese poetry, compiled in a new book, has, in a sense, reunited two Pelican Rapids area artists. 

The most published writer and artist in the Pelican area, Joan Jarvis Ellison, has published her 11th book—and it’s all “Haiku” poetry.

The book is published by Red Dragonfly Press, whose founder was the late Scott King, a Pelican graduate who was a well-known literary and art figure in the Twin Cities Metro area. 

King, a 1983 Pelican Rapids High School grad, died in April of 2021, and the fate of the press was unclear. Friends, colleagues, and volunteers gathered to continue the operations of the press, including publication of accepted manuscripts and ensuring that the work remains available, reported Leslie Taylor, president of Red Dragonfly Press Board of Directors.

The survival of Dragonfly gave Ellison an avenue for publishing her unique collection of Haiku poetry—and at the same time, carry on the legacy, vision, and spirit of Scott King. 

“For one year, I tried to write a haiku every morning while I walked our dog Newton through the fields and woods of our farm,” wrote Ellison. “Some days, I wrote three or four haiku. Some days my mind was focused on other things. Some days I forgot the important seventeen syllables before we returned home, and they were lost. But even I can usually keep seventeen syllables in my mind, and so here they are, my haiku for our small piece of the world, from my heart.”

The cover art of the 11th book by Pelican’s Joan Jarvis Ellison. The collection of her Japanese Haiku is available locally at Mercantile on Main and Pelican Drug.

Titled “Farm is to Hope: Haiku from the Heartland,” it is organized by season—with inspiration from her home and farm southeast of Pelican Rapids. A sheep producer and a wool fiber artist, Ellison’s book “Shepherdess: Notes from the Field” is perhaps her best-known work, and the story of her experiences with sheep and lamb was a Minnesota Book Award winner in 1996. That was the year she met the late Scott King. 

“It was at a literary coffee house in the meeting room at the Pelican library, before the expansion,” recalled Ellison. “I was shaking so hard that Scott commented that he was afraid that I wouldn’t be able to read.”

Ellison followed the growth of the Red Dragonfly Press and the books King published and read a lot more poetry. “(Scott) was sort of a literary hero to me,” said Ellison.

“He and (wife) Lisa joined us several times for supper after readings,” recalled Ellison. “He published so many books for so many poets. I kept encouraging him to publish his own poetry, and in the last few years, he began doing that. Really interesting mind and voice.”

King sent Ellison’s haiku manuscript to an Emily Dickenson contest, knowing that people who liked Dickenson’s poetry probably would not like haiku. This was correct, noted Ellison. 

Scott had been publishing haiku more in the last few years, so when he announced a call for manuscripts, Ellison sent him her haiku book.

The book is expected to be on sale in late March. Locally, the book is at Pelican Drug, Mercantile on Main, or at Ellison’s website, www.joanjarvisellison.com.

The late Scott King, a 1983 Pelican Rapids High School graduate, carved out an unusual niche in the Twin Cities area art and literary world with his non-profit “Red Dragonfly Press.” King, who died April 2, 2021 at age 56, printed and hand-crafted collectible poetry collections using vintage print shop equipment.

His vision lives on as the presses are still rolling, and the latest publication is by fellow Pelican Rapids writer, and friend, Joan Jarvis Ellison.

The charming collection of Ellison’s haiku would make Scott King proud. He was a naturalist and an enthusiastic student of many things, including poetry, publishing, translating, insects, bugging, nature writing, volleyball, math, science, tai chi, and more. Scott lived in Northfield, MN, with his wife, Lisa, and daughter, Lida. 

King’s Red Dragonfly Press began in the mid-1990s, with early titles created using old-school printing presses on handmade papers and bound by hand. By 2011 books were typeset on computers and printed on modern equipment. 

With Ellison’s haiku, published by Dragonfly—the spirit of the late Scott King—with all the Pelican connections—lives on.

The published works of Dragonfly can be found at https://www.reddragonflypress.org/.