I read something interesting in the current edition (Jan/Feb, 2006) of the Atlantic Magazine written in 1964 by President Kennedy about the purpose of poetry. Excerpts:
The men who create power make an indispensible contribution to the nation's greatness, but the men who question power make a contribution just as indispensible, especially when that questioning is disinterested, for they determine whether we use power or power uses us...
When power corrupts, poetry cleanses, for art establishes the basic human truths which must serve as the touchstones of our judgement.
In free society art is not a weapon, and it does not belong to the sphere of polemics and ideology.
I look forward to a great future for America--a future in which our country will match its military strength with our moral strength, its wealth with our wisdom, its power with our purpose.
And I look forward to an America which commands respect throughout the world, not only for its strength, but for its civilization as well.
And I look forward to a world which will be safe, not only for democracy and diversity, but also for personal distinction.
So, all that poetry you had to read in high school has a purpose after all!