Born in California in 1945, Kay Ryan has said that her poems don't start with imagery or sound, but rather develop "the way an oyster does, with an aggravation." Her unique brand of tightly compressed brilliance has earned her the status of one of the great living American poets, leading to her appointment as U.S. Poet Laureate in 2008. Meghan O'Rourke has written of her work, "Each poem twists around and back upon its argument like a river retracing its path; they are didactic in spirit, but a bedrock wit supports them."
Ryan's poem "Turtle" exemplifies this, approaching the turtle and its cumbersome body many times over, through many metaphors and observations, expressing impatience and dismay and a kind of pity for the animal, who remains completely outside of and untouched by this appraisal. Maintaining a career outside the mainstream poetry circuit, Ryan teaches remedial English in California's Marin County, where she has lived for the last 30 years. She is the recipient of several major awards, including fellowships from the National Endowment for the Arts and the Ingram Merrill Foundation, and the Ruth Lilly Poetry Prize.