In "Turtle" by Kay Ryan, what is the central figure of speech?
My first guess is metaphor because the poem is comparing a person to a turtle. I'm having a difficult time with most of the types of figures of speech. It seems that several apply in many instances. Any help is appreciated.
Well, you are right that the poem is riddled with metaphors, but the turtle seems to be equated with almost everything except a person!
The poor turtle is called a hard roll, a helmet, a rowboat, a packing case (though that one is a simile, since the structure 'like' is used). She's represented as a vehicle ('axle')-- a truck with a 'load of pottery'. The reptile is viewed from a new angle each time a new metaphor is introduced, and it is interesting to see how the poet builds up her take on the turtle's hard lifestyle with this rapid sequence of vivid images.
But the poem remains all about turtles, not people ('Who would be a turtle who could help it?'). At the website referenced below, Ms Ryan says that she wrote the poem when she was feeling frustrated, so that may be why her turtle has such a hard time of it-- but the poem remains an observation of turtles, in the slightly grim humour of this poet's take on one of our most durable creatures.