There is something captivatingly out-of-synch in the fact that the speed-obsessed, tech-enabled, money-driven United States entertain an institution called the "poet laureate".
This is a "job" that has no clear description. Every year a poet is chosen by the Librarian of the US Congress. He or she is given the title of Consultant in Poetry to the Library of Congress, a stipend and a budget to travel, and is expected to do what he can to advance the cause of poetry: speak at universities and schools, encourage readers to devote more attention and time to poetry, and so on. In the official wording: "raise the national consciousness to a greater appreciation of the reading and writing of poetry". This is therefore way more than a writing grant: it's a mandate to speak on behalf of poetry, to be its ambassador.
The new laureate is Donald Hall, a rather private person who lives in a former farmhouse in New Hampshire - a stereotypically poetical/contemplative life if there is one - whose use of words can however be severely formal and fierce.
That "pop-culture" America keeps naming poet laureates should provide some inspiration to "culturally-sensitive" Europe, where writers and poets often receive grants and stipends to support their writing, but generally shun taking on the larger and separate duty of speaking on behalf of their art and further its progress.
I got a personal sense of what a poet laureate is for when, a couple of years ago, I met one of the previous laureates, Billy Collins. We were at Stanford University. Collins, who is a soft-spoken man in his mid-60, had just finished a public reading. As we were about to shake hands, a teenage student interposed herself between us. Collins thought she wanted an autograph, and reached for his pen, but with a big smile she asked: "Can I hug you?". Surprised, he hesitated a moment, then nodded. She threw herself around his neck, saying "I love your poetry".