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This interview is taken from PN Review 263, Volume 48 Number 3, January - February 2022.

in conversation with Nigel Fabb
Meter, Feeling, Knowing
Mark Dow
Nigel Fabb is Professor of Literary Linguistics at the University of Strathclyde in Glasgow. His books include What is Poetry: Language and Memory in the Poems of the World (Cambridge 2015); with Morris Halle, Meter in Poetry: a New Theory (Cambridge 2008); Language and literary structure: the linguistic analysis of form in verse and narrative (Cambridge 2002); and Linguistics and Literature (Blackwell 1997).

This conversation was conducted via email in May/June 2021.

MD: Your essay ‘Why is Verse Poetry?’ appeared in the September 2008 PN Review, and we first got in touch after I wrote a letter to the editor about your comments in it on the ‘tip-of-the-tongue’ phenomenon, so let’s start there. The ‘tip-of-the-tongue’ phenomenon interests you, I think, because it’s an example of linguistic structure detaching itself from ‘content’. It points to the existence of ‘unnameable’ or ‘unspeakable’ content. On a larger scale, this feeling of knowing something we cannot put into words is what has been labelled ‘the sublime’. If my summary is more or less accurate, can you lay out the milestones of your interest in these topics?

NF: The tip-of-the-tongue feeling is a feeling relating to knowledge, and one of a number of ‘epistemic feelings’ which belong on what William James called the fringe of consciousness. It is related to the ‘feeling of knowing’, identified by J. T. Hart in 1965, which involves a feeling that we know the answer to a question, but cannot yet express it  (but are eventually able to). I have just completed a book for Anthem ...


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