Kenzie Allen

poet & multimodal artist

“McKenzie River Ranger District”

a Google Maps poem

Created in 2020 as part of my dissertation project, Wampum, “McKenzie River Ranger District” utilizes the Google Maps platform to create a non-linear narrative rooted in various points of interest that were significant to my life growing up in and eventually volunteering as a fire lookout in the Oregon Cascades.

Sand Mountain fire lookout, Oregon

While there may be an order implied by the listing of landmarks populated by google’s output of the map, the user is encouraged to click on any given point of interest at will, emphasizing a non-linear and non-hierarchical narrative mode. Each landmark or point of interest holds mini-poems and audiovisuals, with many created in situ, as I find site-specificity, geolocated work, and composing-in-place to be particularly vital to my poetic practice.

auto-generated “table of contents” for map poem

If the poem does have a chronological order, it “begins” with the “Big Lake Airstrip Fire” my father reported in 1968, a fire that quickly swept through the valley, rendering much of it to ash and skeletal remains, and eventually threatened to engulf the Sand Mountain lookout. The poem continues through the panoramic landscape as seen from the lookout via its peaks, bridged through memory and meaningful names. The poem “ends” with another beginning, “At the Entrance” of the 810 road leading back up to the lookout.

the McKenzie River

I am named for the McKenzie River, the coldest river waters in all of Oregon. My father said the river and its valley represented one of the most beautiful places he knew, and he served as a fire lookout in the McKenzie, Detroit, and other Oregon ranger districts from the late 60s onward. My brother founded the Sand Mountain Society to restore and preserve historic fire lookouts, and thanks to his efforts, I was able to grow up visiting the Sand Mountain lookout in the summers, the same lookout he visited as a child when my father was manning the tower. He, our father, and I still volunteer there, today.

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