I fell in love with this book when I lived for a time in the Barnstone 'barn' in Bloomington, Indiana, for a term in the early 1980s. I met both Aliki Barnstone, the editor of this text, as well as her father Willis Barnstone, a poet and scholar in his own right. Aliki Barnstone was a published poet as early as the age of nine. This was almost a guarantee for a lifelong love of poetry and literature, which comes through in this collection.
The collection begins in the very beginnings of written literature, with pieces from Sumerian, Akkadian, Egyptian, ancient Hebrew and Aramean literature. It is rare enough for works from these time periods to have any author ascribed at all, and doubly rare for women to be credited as authors, so this represents an important collection. Barnstone also includes some ancient poems from Asian languages such as Chinese later in the collection.
The organisation is not strictly by chronology, but does follow a more-or-less chronological progression both in terms of the overall languages (Sumerian as a language preceded the Latinate languages, which preceded the English language, and so forth), and the primarily chronological listing within the language groups. Thus, one gets modern Hebrew poets in the book prior to the listing of ancient Greek poets such as Sappho and Praxilla.
Some of these more ancient pieces could be questioned editorially - the Song of Deborah (from the biblical book of Judges) and the Magnificat (from the gospel of Luke) are included because they represent women's voices, but may not be originally women's compositions as literary texts. The more modern the language or composition, the more likely it is to have an identifiable author, so one cannot fault Barnstone for striving for inclusivity to this extent.
Not only does this represent one of the best anthologies of women's poetry overall, it also represents a grand collection for many of the subsections, such as the African languages, Chinese, and international French and Spanish. Barnstone's brief commentaries throughout are accessible and useful, introducing context and biographical information to help place the literary features and meaning-ful elements in such a way that readers will more easily identify with the poetry.
This is a great collection.