Eliot's poetry really lit my fire. He was every New Critic's teacher's pet. In my essay "T.S. Eliot: Thinker and Artist," I praise him as the embodiment of everything that turns me on about poetry. I also talk about my total love for the "essential unity" of his work. He was not only a supreme poet, but his essays were also off the charts.
But back to his poetry. His work showed me that it was possible to express the meaning and feeling of something through rhythm and meter, metaphor and allusion. Above all, I admired his idea of the poet's commitment to "turn the unpoetical into poetry." You won't find fields of daffodils in his work—you'll pretty much find "The Waste Land"—but the poem will be beautiful nonetheless.
Richards and I didn't always agree—he was crushing on Freud and Jung and that whole psychological theory stuff way too much for my tastes. But he did influence my appreciation for contemporary poetry, and he showed me by example that criticism could be worthy of its subject: it could sophisticated and serious, important and insightful. To put it bluntly: Richards was my mentor—he showed me the path to developing my own critical voice.
You may be tired of hearing about Red, but it wouldn't be right if I didn't include him in this list of influences. In fact, it's safe to say that he was the biggest influence on me of all. It wasn't like a teacher-student thing—we were friends, and we influenced each other. Most importantly, we shared an admiration for poetry, and we collaborated before the idea of collaboration became trendy. And not to get all sappy, but he made me feel good about myself as a critic. You never forget your first co-writer on a textbook.
Faulkner's writing didn't influence mine, which is probably a good thing since his sentences could go on for pages. But Faulkner was like T.S. Eliot in that his work demonstrated the ideals of what I was seeking as a New Critic. I truly believe that there is no writer more original that Faulkner. Warren and I did a good turn to old Faulkner, by the way: we promoted and critiqued his work, inspiring a small industry of well-deserved Faulkner criticism.
Lytle was a fellow Fugitive, though he was a little more into drama than poetry. (So was I, if we're being honest.) As fellow Fugitives, we liked to sit around and tell stories and—best of all—create manifestos! Our first was humbly titled I'll Take My Stand. Andrew always kept it real with his cracker-barrel wisdom and folksy ways. He was the living embodiment of some of my favorite things about the South—and, for crying out loud, the guy even lived in a log cabin.