The editor's introduction says it all-- and a little bit more. The introductory essay is brief, to the point, and puts this collection in historical and literary context. From the end of the 19th century on down to the jazz poetry of today (and a thorough job of selection from the Harlem Renaissance of the '20's), Editor Bontemps has pulled together the arresting voices that an older, unwiser time relegated to a literary position outside the ""mainstream"" of American experience. Mr. Bontemps' essay questions the possibility of defining the term ""mainstream"" so narrowly, and this little book provides an eloquent reason why it should be questioned. The editor's biographical notes on the life and work of the poets included here is a particularly valuable source of information not easily come by in other works. Desperation, poverty, and bitterness are sung in these lines, but there is a balance of laughter, strength and hope. For all American poetry collections attempting to be complete.